Letter: Council should not listen to the Barrington Times

Posted 11/17/20

To the editor:

If the town had done as last week’s editorial suggested, instead of listening to the town manager, residents would have died. It’s a simple fact, and, if you read to the …

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Letter: Council should not listen to the Barrington Times

Posted

To the editor:

If the town had done as last week’s editorial suggested, instead of listening to the town manager, residents would have died. It’s a simple fact, and, if you read to the end, I’ll explain.

You mislead your readers about the way Barrington’s budget works to support your dubious thesis that the town council should not put the manager’s reasonable proposals before voters for consideration.

You complain about the condition of our athletic fields, but decry hiring DPW workers that tend those fields. Worse, you mislead your readers by suggesting it was the council’s fiat that led to the hiring. It was the taxpayers voting at the most recent financial town meeting, upon the motion of a town resident to restore funds stricken by the committee on appropriations, that resulted in the hiring of additional DPW personnel. You previously published an article about it.

You fault the council for not implementing layoffs or hour reductions for employees due to pandemic related building closures. The work of the town continues whether or not government buildings are open to the public. Deeds are recorded, recreation programs continue, building inspections continue, etc. Recall that it was the committee on appropriations and the voters that wisely rejected library budget reductions that might have been possible if the COVID-19 related library closure continued. Does it really make sense for the town to pay 57 percent of laid off workers’ salaries, in the form of unemployment, rather than have employees continue to perform the work that is required?

You complain about the use of accumulating cell tower rental fees for maintenance of recreational spaces in addition to athletic fields. Maybe you believe the town shouldn’t support kayakers, rowers, runners, and dog walkers. You don’t mention, or don’t know, that the account into which these funds are deposited had an accumulated balance of over $400,000. Why not use these funds for recreational purposes in addition to fields, including construction of a town dock funded mostly with state grants, and hopefully soon, trail improvements to alleviate flooding that keeps residents off trails that have offered so many people respite during this pandemic? Using these funds allows these improvements to be made without raising taxes.

You complain that the council has not concerned itself with the interests of the majority of residents. At the same time, you decry a requested change in state law that would allow annual revaluations (used successfully throughout Massachusetts for years) to prevent the majority of residents from overpaying taxes to fund serious underassessments benefitting a tiny fraction of residents.

You complain about hiring an emergency management coordinator at a cost of $25,000. This too was the voters’ wise decision, and it’s strange that your objection comes months after the vote occurred. In a 100-year flood, Barrington is literally an archipelago. The residents of Pezzullo Avenue, for example, would be on an island one quarter mile from the nearest dry road. Aside from obvious health and safety risks, hundreds of millions of dollars of public and private property, in excess of flood insurance limits, would be lost. This could well include Barrington’s sewage pumping stations, which are largely located in flood plains by necessity, and Barrington High School. Is $25,000 too much to spend to prepare for this catastrophe? Should the unfortunate residents of Barrington when this flood comes have to ask, “Why didn’t Town government prepare for this when they knew it was inevitable?” 

And it is the inevitable that brings us back to where I began—the residents who would have died if we listened to you instead of the town manager. In 2017, the manager informed the council that we needed four additional firefighters because, when Rescue 1 was responding to an emergency, Rescue 2 was often unavailable because it could not be manned. An eventual loss of life was inevitable.

The council at the time, Mike Carroll, Kate Weymouth, Steve Primiano, Peter Dennehy and I, initially reacted skeptically. After long deliberation we came to understand the gravity of the situation, and fought to convey the seriousness of the proposal to a committee on appropriations that seemed primed to reject it. Fortunately, Barrington’s voice of reason, Richard Staples, implored his colleagues to think of the consequences if Barrington could not deploy a rescue truck in an emergency. Appropriations recommended that the town proceed, and the voters overwhelmingly agreed.

Within months the additional rescue saved a resident’s life when mutual aid would not have arrived quickly enough. This is colloquially called a “save,” and there have been other saves owing to the new hires in the years since. This is to say nothing of the terrible consequences that could have befallen other residents, like a choking child and stroke victims, from delayed intervention even if they might have survived.

When the new hires were approved, the cost per median value home was estimated to be $31 per year—about the cost of a subscription to this newspaper. It actually cost much less after receiving a federal grant of more than $500,000, applied for by our public employees, covered between 75 percent and 25 percent of the cost of these firefighters for their first three years of service.

Like you, I look forward to the newly elected councilors taking office. My optimism is due to my belief that they will be more thoughtful, more trusting of our professionals and more understanding of the gravity of their decisions than you have been in spilling baseless aspersions. I ask just two things of the incoming councilors: (1) that in matters of public safety they listen to a fire chief with decades of experience, and a town manager who was in charge of public safety for all Navy installations throughout the southwestern United States, rather than armchair quarterbacks; and (2) that they call you when the firefighters their predecessors fought to hire save another life because good government keeps score by human tragedy averted—not whether an annual tax bill was $31 lower.

Steve Boyajian

Barrington

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