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Greenfield eyes going regional with veteran services

Veterans services, as with other services provided by Franklin County towns, are coming under the push for regionalization, as towns look for ways to cut administrative costs in providing benefits.

But the devil’s in the details — especially when 24 Franklin County towns have already been served by a regional agent for decades.

A study prepared for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments at Greenfield’s suggestion looked at combining the Turners Falls-based veterans services program with the one that serves Greenfield and neighboring Leyden. The finding looked attractive. But only for Greenfield.

The analysis, by former Amherst Town Manager Barry L. Del Castilho, now at the Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, shows that regionalization would save Greenfield $53,000 in administrative expenses but cost towns an additional $522 per 1,000 population

“We’re trying to keep it within the means of the towns, because everyone’s in a budget crunch,” said David Gendron, who chairs the board that oversees the district that now serves the 24 towns as well as Plainfield in Hampshire County.

With a $92,000 budget this year, expected to drop to $91,000 next year, Gendron said of his 25-town district, “Greenfield could join our district. We’re a regional district. It would be one town, one vote. Everybody makes out.”
But his 25-member board voted unanimously last month to reject the proposal — even though another part of the analysis showed that if Greenfield shared $25,000 of its savings, it would still save $27,967 for itself and keep the cost essentially constant for the other towns.

Greenfield Mayor William Martin disagreed with numbers presented in the analysis, however, according to COG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy, so the COG is analyzing the findings of Del Castilho’s report so that it provides what she calls “an apples and apples comparison.” She said that analysis is expected by sometime in January.

Martin could not be reached for this article.

The savings presented by Del Castilho would come by consolidating the functions of the existing regional office — with two part-time service agents and an office manager — together with the Greenfield service office, where full-time agent Charles Loven has a part-time assistant.

Although the mayor’s vision is for a unified, Greenfield-based Franklin County Regional Veterans Service Center, Dunlavy said, there’s reason for a reconfigured office to serve from a consolidated base with satellites in Orange, Turners Falls and Shelburne Falls. Regional veterans agents Leo Parent Jr. and Mark Fitzpatrick — retired from full-time work as veterans agents and sharing a single full-time job based on Millers Falls Road in Turners Falls — now conduct weekly service visits in Orange and Shelburne Falls.

Dunlavy said that with Loven, Parent and Fitzpatrick all ready for retirement, an advantage of going to full-scale regional model is that future staffing could be done with specialists in veterans of different war eras, whose needs are different.

“If we could find a way,” Dunlavy said, “I would continue to believe there’s a possibility of creating a better quality of service through a hybrid of having this service center centrally located, plus satellite hours, plus specialized staffing, plus a single county district. If all that could be worked out in a way that assessments are fair and acceptable to all towns, with governance worked out in way that everyone felt they had a voice in how decisions are made, that would be a wonderful conclusion to this project. We aren’t there.”

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