To the Editor: Blandford

As widely reported, the three part-time police officers and one part-time Interim Police Chief made the decision to resign from their positions in our small community of 1,233 residents – the Town of Blandford, Massachusetts. My first and immediate message to the public, make no mistake in understanding the situation regarding public safety for Blandford residents, the town is indeed safe. Services are no different than any time before their resignation. Per usual, all 911 calls from town are received by Berkshire Command, which is then dispatched one town over to State Police, who will respond to calls as they always have, and provide quality services to not only the Town of Blandford but to the rest of the hilltown region.
Now that we have the national stage, I would like to bring up an important issue facing most rural towns not just in Massachusetts but all across the United States that are forcing leadership of small towns to think creatively on how to maintain the most basic functions of local governments, including local police services. We take pride in our existence as a jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Maintaining our way of life, however, is increasingly becoming more difficult considering results of our incredibly low and aging population, student-body population decline, shrinking tax base, limited economic growth, increased mandates, and the rising costs for services. Those who are in small-town government can tell you how much of a challenge it is to maintain services and keep up with mandates.
It is for these reasons that communities such as our little town of Blandford are constantly investigating new solutions to maximize efficiency and achieve economies-of-scale to deliver services that meet local needs expected by our residents and by regulatory requirements. An opportune example to explore innovative and transformative solutions for maximum efficiency is that of our part-time 4 member police services. Our town Police Chief of ten years resigned in June of 2018. In light of his resignation, this created an opportunity for the town to rethink our police department structure, including exploring the idea of sharing police resources cross-jurisdictionally with bordering communities who also experience the same looming demographic, socioeconomic, and financial pressures as we do.
Please understand that sharing resources is not anything new for our hilltown community. We have a regional school district shared between six towns with an approximate combined population of 7,928 people. Recently, our six hilltown communities that share a school district came together and established what is called the Hilltown Collaborative – an informal group appointed by members of the executive leadership of the six towns that meet periodically and discuss, explore, and propose ideas to streamline and enhance local government operations through a shared service capacity – with goal to ensure towns maintain their local autonomy. This group became inspired by an extensive analysis with factual data completed in April 2017 by the Massachusetts Division of Local Services through the Governor of Massachusetts Community Compact Cabinet program that reflects the unsustainable trajectory our towns are in that will impact our overall ability to continue to operate as we do today if we don’t begin to think and act proactively.
In light of the information presented, the Hilltown Collaborative committed themselves to explore mutually beneficial economic development opportunities that can attract growth in our region and improve our operational conditions. A result of the group, with support from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, was the recently established 6-town shared Economic Development Director sustained through the appropriations of each of our towns’ budgets. The Director is specifically tasked with implementing short- and long-term economic development strategies that can help us attract new growth potential now and into the future, and get on a much more sustainable trajectory. This idea, among others such as sharing highway equipment, regional municipal accounting, and finance, sharing municipal IT services, sharing building inspectors services, and more – is just one of the many ideas our town and surrounding communities are exploring or have discussed exploring to ensure future sustainability and autonomy of our individual small towns. Moving forward, the position of the temporary police chief has been posted on our town website at www.townofblandford.com. Applications will be accepted until August 15. We welcome qualified candidates to apply, specifically candidates who will lead our department with innovative strategies to achieve greater sustainability.
Cara Letendre – Selectboard Chair
Joshua A. Garcia – Interim Town Administrator

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