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Despite higher costs, South Shore officials praise regional dispatch center

January 30, 2014 11:05 AM

A projected five percent increase in the budget for the regional emergency dispatch center based in Hingham hasn’t altered local opinions of the entity’s worth, with local managers still confident that operational gains have outweighed monetary losses.

Budgets have been a concern for most of the four communities that joined the South Shore Regional Emergency Communications Center between 2011 and 2013, with planned savings and cost efficiencies never really materializing.

Despite that trend continuing into the next fiscal year, town administrators said the center has provided tangible value.

"I think it's working fantastic," said Norwell Town Administrator James Boudreau. "We can point to at least two if not three incidents where [emergency medical dispatchers] saved someone’s life over the phone. We’re providing a much higher level of service than was provided by the tour towns individually."

Boudreau also said the dispatch center's metrics were above state averages.

He isn't alone in his support. In Hingham, town officials said the ability to handle multiple emergencies at the same time has been invaluable.

“The ability for dispatchers to handle a multitude of calls, emergencies at the same time, to provide emergency med dispatch abilities, to have the same equipment in four towns for larger scale issues - there are a tremendous amount of benefits,” said Hingham Town Administrator Ted Alexiades in a phone interview.

Hingham has seen the biggest budgetary difference. In fiscal 2014, which began last July 1, Hingham’s allocation for the dispatch center was $675,000.

That compares with about $456,000 in fiscal 2011, the last year Hingham ran a separate dispatch center. (The fiscal 2011 number was about $50,000 lower than usual, due to one-year cutbacks.)

In Cohasset, the emergency dispatch operating budget totaled $239,353 in fiscal 2011 (the cost of benefits was not available) and was set to total about $250,000 in fiscal 2014 (which does include benefits).

In Norwell, operations and benefits costs will fall from $465,000 in fiscal 2011 to $325,000 in fiscal 2014. These numbers, however, do not reflect a related $200,000 increase in the police budget.

Hull is the only community that has seen substantial savings. Its dispatch center spent more than $486,000 for operations and benefits in fiscal 2011, and that number has dropped to $355,000 in fiscal 2014.

Each of these budgets is expected to increase approximately five percent in fiscal 2015, largely due to the settling of a union contract with the dispatchers and the need to buy additional software.

Hull Town Administrator Phillip Lemnios has said previously that cost was not the primary driver for the center, and he wasn't surprised by the recent increases.

“There are some technical issues that need to be addressed. Some of the items purchased are coming off warranty, we need to make [plans] for those things,” he said.

Cohasset Town Manager Christopher Senior was not available for comment.

Increases won’t only be limited to the first few years. Because software and technology is so heavily utilized, some aspects will have to be updated every three to five years.

“This is a unique operation, in that a lot of this stuff is in use constantly,” Lemnios said.

Alexiades agreed that budgets will likely be on the rise for some time. “The only way to save money on the center long term is to grow it, which is a benefit to us and the new member communities that join,” Alexiades said.

No discussions have begun on expanding the dispatch center, though those conversations may begin in the next year.

“The state has provided us with over $5 million to build out that [center] with the newest and best technology. I do think that other communities will look at that for the resource it is, if we can match the cost of their or beat the cost of their service they are expending,” Alexiades said.

Costs may go down for some present communities in the center through discussions over the budget allocation, though those discussions are still a ways off, Alexiades said.

Archdiocese appoints pastors to South Shore collaboratives

January 14, 2014 04:28 PM

Several Catholic churches in the South Shore have been placed under the direction of new leadership, with the appointment of several pastors to newly established collaboratives.

The collaboratives will not consolidate any churches or mean any parish closings, but rather offer an oversight role to a group of parishes, allowing priests within each parish to better do their jobs.

“We are blessed by the dedication of the priests, parishioners and the deacons and religious who are working together to strengthen our parishes,” said Cardinal Seán O’Malley in a release. “I am grateful for the generosity of these pastors as they accept the call to lead the new collaboratives, advancing the mission of evangelization in the Archdiocese of Boston.”

In Quincy, the Reverend Louis R. Palmieri will lead Sacred Heart, St. Ann, and St. Mary parishes. Milton’s St. Agatha will be under the direction of the Reverend Brian R. Kiely. The Reverend Christopher J. Hickey will lead Hanover and Norwell parishes St. Mary and St. Helen. In Braintree, the Reverend Paul T. Clifford will oversee St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare.

Additionally, in Abington, Rev. James M. Mahoney will lead St. Bridget and Holy Ghost. Stoughton’s Immaculate Conception and St. James will be overseen by the Reverend Joseph M. Mazzone.

Part of the second phase of a “Disciples in Mission” plan, the 21 appointments mean the creation of 33 total collaboratives within the region, which include 72 parishes.

The plan will eventually group all parishes into approximately 135 collaboratives over the course of five years.

Free rides after 8 p.m., extra service on MBTA for New Year's Eve

December 26, 2013 10:48 AM

The MBTA said it will continue its annual tradition of offering free rides after 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, while boosting service on its subway and commuter rail lines to accommodate people traveling to celebrate First Night.

On New Year’s Eve, the T's Green, Red, Orange, and Blue lines will operate on modified weekday schedules with extra trains running at “rush-hour levels of service” from about 3 p.m. until 2 a.m., officials announced.

The T’s commuter rail lines will also run on modified weekday schedules with additional service, including a number of lines that will see extra outbound service and some delayed outbound departures between midnight and 2 a.m., officials said.

To see a detailed list of extra commuter rail service and delayed departure times, click here.

Meanwhile, the T’s Silver Line, buses, trackless trolleys, express bus routes and boats will run on regular weekday schedules on New Year’s Eve, officials said.

The T’s paratransit service, the RIDE, will run on a regular weekday schedule with extended hours until 2:30 a.m.

On New Year’s Day, the four subway lines will run on Sunday schedules as will the Silver Line, the RIDE, the commuter rail and buses, meaning some commuter rail and bus lines will not operate, officials said.

For a detailed list of subway and bus routes that will not run on New Year’s Day, click here.

The T will not run boat service on New Year’s Day.

City officials have encouraged people traveling in and around Boston on New Year's Eve to ride public transit, including the T. A number of streets will be closed to traffic, while parking will be banned on others. For a detailed list, click here.

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South Shore towns combine designated driver campaigns

December 24, 2013 01:37 PM

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Information courtesy of Hingham Police

Traffic safety statistics from 2008 through 2012 showing fatalities involving drivers with blood alcohol content higher than .08 percent.

South Shore communities are combining efforts to reduce drunk driving with a districtwide designated driver program.

Started in Hingham a decade ago, the program seeks to partner with local restaurants and bars, encouraging them to give the designated driver free non alcoholic beverages and reminding the establishments to serve responsibly.

“The best way to reduce drunk driving is to keep intoxicated persons from operating a vehicle,” organizers said in a release.

The program has grown in pieces over the last decade, starting in Hingham after a serious Thanksgiving night crash in the town in 2002.

Though the driver involved in the crash wasn’t coming from a Hingham restaurant, police said they started looking for ways to be proactive around the holidays.

The 2003 holiday season marked the first designated driver program for the town, with half of local businesses participating in the campaign. By 2005, every Hingham business was a participant, and the effort had become a year-round event.

The Plymouth County District Attorney’s office became involved in 2006, using money received from drunk driving forfeitures to provide magnets, stickers, and brochures.

Norwell Police came on board in 2010, followed by Rockland in 2011. As Marshfield joined in 2013, all four communities have come together with the District Attorney to make the program regionwide.

“The four communities together bring a total of over 70 establishments participating in the program and serve over 77,000 residents,” organizers said.

Police are optimistic about the expansion of the program, as the existing program has already reduced incidents of drunk driving, they said.

According to the release, 19 alcohol fatalities occurred in 2008 in Plymouth County. By 2012, that number had gone down to 12.

In all 14 Massachusetts counties, only Dukes, Middlesex, Plymouth, and Worcester had a decrease in drunk driving fatalities in the same time period, with Plymouth having the largest percentage decrease.

Yet there is still work to be done. Police said 56 people have been killed cumulatively in the last five years in Plymouth County due to alcohol-related crashes.

Continued enforcement and awareness campaigns are the answer, police said, and over time, the hope is the program reinforces the use of designated drivers, keeps the subject of drunk driving in the forefront of the public’s mind, and develops a relationship between restaurants and police before an incident occurs.

Rough beginnings give way to successful regional dispatch, officials say

December 23, 2013 05:13 PM

A year after four South Shore towns combined their emergency dispatch operations, managers said emergency response is finally working as intended.

“Calls are up, complaints are down,” summarized Hingham Town Administrator Ted Alexiades.

The progress is a far cry from where things started in August 2012, when Hingham, Hull, Cohasset, and Norwell finalized the multi-town initiative.

Though regionalization was intended to generate efficiencies, the dispatch center budget was higher than anticipated for three out of the four towns in fiscal year 2014 – the first full year the center would be in operation.

Operational problems also persisted.

Difficult transitions with new software and new operating procedures intensified training difficulties and personnel issues, officials said. Managers also reported that dispatcher contract negotiations resulted in morale issues.

Negotiations are still ongoing, but Maureen Shirkus, executive director for the Center, said other growing pains have all but dissipated.

“Training issues have turned the corner,” Shirkus said in a phone interview. “…There was a learning curve we all had to go through with the equipment we were using. You had to learn the geography of every town. You can teach someone that but it takes time and exposure to it.”

While the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget has not lessened – Alexiades reported a 5 percent increase in the requested budget due to increased staffing requests and software upgrades, other measures point to success.

Staff said improvements have been seen in emergency medical dispatch – requiring medical instruction to be given on the phone while police or fire is being dispatched – due to increased staff. Response times have also improved due to centralized operations and new technology, staff said.

Complaints from staff are also down as internal problems have dwindled, Shirkus said.

Repetition has helped solve many of the problems, but internal changes have also created improvements. Shirkus said dispatchers are now assigned by department, rather than dispatching all calls by town.

“One day you’re a fire dispatcher, the next you’re a police dispatcher…that has helped,” Shirkus said. “If you’re doing Hingham and Norwell Fire Departments, they do a lot of mutual aid, you know who is where and what’s going on.”

Fire and Police chiefs have also made an effort to familiarize themselves and their crews with dispatchers, developing relationships with the new people on the other end of the phone line.

Turnover has also helped bring in new dispatchers who are more adaptable than legacy employees, and work load redistribution has dispatchers multi-tasking less.

“[There were] little things like that we needed to learn, because no one had done it before… We’ve come a long way since we first opened the door,” Shirkus said.

Emergency responders outside the dispatch center agree that change has been for the better.

“We’re making good progress and we’ve made a lot of significant changes that have made life a bit better,” said Hingham Deputy Fire Chief Robert Olsson. “It’s to be expected when you take four towns and combine into one thing … you take a bit of time for people to adjust.”

In addition to streamlined operations, new technology - $5 million total given to the regional group from the state – has improved record management, Olsson said.

“The data has always been captured but our ability to use that data is significantly improved,” he said.

Hingham Deputy Police Chief Glenn Olsson also pointed to the technology as merely one of the new system’s benefits. Unlike before, officers can read calls on their computers before they are spoken over the radio, and respond faster to emergencies, he said.

Monthly meetings between all four towns have also increased communication and collaboration, he said.

Improvements are especially noticeable within storms, Olsson said, when call volumes are high and dispatch is able to operate unimpeded.

“Sometimes people get impatient. You want to turn the switch and have everything work. In real life, things never go as smoothly as you want to,” he said. “As long as people stay positive and keep moving forward, you end up with a good product. And it’s starting to show.”

Wind energy bill returns to Beacon Hill

December 3, 2013 05:18 PM

Lawmakers waded back into a battle waged for years between environmentalists who want to shorten the permitting process for smaller wind energy projects and residents who say their health suffers from living near a turbine.

During a legislative hearing Tuesday, residents who live near turbines accused environmental activists of persistently pushing legislation to make it easier to permit land-based wind energy projects without acknowledging health effects. Environmentalists argued benefits of the renewable energy outweigh some of the negative impacts.

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, told lawmakers on the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee they need to have the political will to pass legislation streamlining the permitting process.

“Wind energy is the future,” he said. “And to think that progress in this area can come without any harm is a misconception.”

Bachrach argued that when highways were built some people were hurt when they lost property, but there was “overall common good.”

“Somehow there is this notion in Massachusetts that we cannot build wind energy unless no one is hurt,” he said.

Two bills before the committee (H 2980 and S 1591), filed by Rep. Frank Smizik and Sen. Barry Finegold, would institute comprehensive siting reform for land-based wind projects.

Similar legislation made it all the way through the House in 2010, but the Senate failed to finish work on the bill. Senators in favor of it attempted to get it passed during informal sessions, but it was repeatedly blocked by opponents during that summer.

Supporters of that bill, including the Patrick administration, said it would have helped expedite wind-based turbine projects while preserving the ability of municipalities to reject unwanted projects. No one from the Patrick administration testified on the bills Tuesday.

During the hearing, some opponents argued Massachusetts is too densely populated to allow wind turbines to be built anywhere on land.

Residents from Falmouth who live near a wind facility urged lawmakers not to pass the bill.

Neil Anderson, a Falmouth resident who lives one quarter-mile away from a turbine, described his suffering. Along with headaches, Anderson said he has trouble concentrating and memory loss. He said he has to leave his house when the winds are high.

“My life has been torn upside down. All I do now is fight wind turbines,” he said.

Anderson refuted claims by some environmentalists who say the wind turbines do not cause health problems.

“They just don’t have a clue about what is going on,” Anderson said. “This is about massive wind generators that are just too close.”

Anderson argued that Massachusetts is too densely populated for turbines to be sited anywhere in the state. “They don’t belong anywhere in Massachusetts,” he said.

He invited lawmakers to sit on his front porch and “see what these turbines can do.”

“Maybe one of you will get a headache, start feeling the pressure in your ears, because it’s real,” Anderson said.

In January 2012, an independent report commissioned by the Patrick administration concluded that wind turbines present little more than an "annoyance" to residents and that limited evidence exists to support claims of devastating health impacts. Falmouth and western Massachusetts residents argued at the time that the report was biased and based on "cherry-picked" information that ignored the real-world impact of turbines.

Smizik, a Democrat from Brookline who chairs the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, said current law favors large fossil fuel plants because only energy plants larger than 100 megawatts can go to the Energy Facilities Siting Board for a consolidated permit. Land-based facilities tend to be much smaller, so they do not have the “luxury” of the fast-tracked permitting option available to fossil fuel plants.

Smizik said the legislation he filed would streamline the process for on-shore wind energy only if the project met strict public safety and environmental standards.

“This bill does not give special interest to the wind energy industry, it just levels the playing field,” Smizik said.

The legislation establishes clear standards and timely and predictable permitting procedures, Smizik said, reducing the time and cost for wind projects.

Smizik said the legislation does not take away local control, something opponents contend it does. There is opportunity for public input, he said.

Rep. Timothy Madden, a Democrat from Nantucket, opposed the bill, saying it takes away a “great deal” of local control.

“My opposition on this bill has not changed over the last several years,” Madden said.

Madden filed a bill (H 2957) that would allow coastal communities to create exclusion zones for wind turbine development.

Smizik said one area of opportunity for wind energy that is being missed is in agricultural land. Farmers struggling to maintain viable farmlands could develop wind farms on their land as a way to power farms and increase profits by selling the energy, he said.

Michael Parry, a sheep farmer who owns 220 acres in Shelburne, said he would never put a wind facility on his property after researching the effects of turbines.

“I would never subject our neighbors to that. I wouldn’t subject my family to that, and I wouldn’t subject my livestock to that,” he said.

Parry mentioned a wind facility located near a dairy farm in Glenmore, Wisconsin where the farmer reported reduced milk production from his cows after the turbines went up. Parry said he favors renewable energy, but feels environmentalists are pushing projects before the impacts are understood.

Notre Dame of Hingham athletes sign D1 college letters of intent

November 20, 2013 11:20 AM

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Notre Dame Academy students, left to right, Julia Flynn, Grace Biciunas, Bella O'Connor, and Mary Claire Dachille

New South Shore Medical Center facility opens in Norwell

October 31, 2013 12:18 PM

News Release

A grand opening and dedication ceremony has been held for the South Shore Medical Center’s new 85,000 square foot medical building at 143 Longwater Drive in Norwell.

The new facility consolidates South Shore Medical Center’s existing Norwell office and its Libbey Parkway-Weymouth facility into a single location. Care for most of South Shore Medical Center’s patients has been transferred to the new location, and all patients are expected to be cared for at the new facility by the end of November.

South Shore Medical Center’s new facility features 100 examination rooms and 70 medical offices, along with easier access, additional parking, comfortable waiting rooms and care areas, and more advanced diagnostic and treatment equipment for the Center’s team-based care of patients.

South Shore Medical Center, a division of Atrius Health, has been providing medical care for area residents and families since 1962, and currently operates facilities in Norwell and Kingston, as well as the Atrius Health Women’s Center in Weymouth. South Shore Medical Center is one of six medical groups that comprise Atrius Health, a not-for-profit alliance that services one million adult and pediatric patients at 50 practice locations in Eastern Massachusetts.

“This new facility will enable us to better serve our more than 65,000 patients, and to deliver the highest quality healthcare using our team-based approach,” said Thomas Carroll, chief executive officer of South Shore Medical Center. “This beautiful new building will help us continue our 51-year legacy of helping people stay healthy.”

The new South Shore Medical Center facility was jointly developed by South Shore Medical Center and FoxRock Properties of Quincy, MA. The construction manager for the project was Campanelli Construction, a construction management firm and division of Braintree-based Campanelli.

For additional information visit

Attorney General sets limits on town medical marijuana bans

September 21, 2013 08:34 AM

Having rejected a medical marijuana moratorium that would have extended into 2015 and approved a moratorium that ends in December 2014, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has developed a cut-off point for towns that want to extend temporary moratoriums on the fledgling industry.

Since voters approved a medical marijuana initiative petition in November 2012 and the Department of Public Health in May adopted regulations for establishing marijuana dispensaries, about a third of the state’s cities and towns have enacted temporary moratoriums designed to provide more time to develop new zoning and other regulations.

On Wednesday, the AG’s Municipal Law Unit chief, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Hurley, gave approval to the town of Dartmouth for a moratorium extending until Dec. 4, 2013.

“However, we cannot presently see how a moratorium that extends beyond December 31, 2014 would be considered reasonable,” Hurley wrote, citing a 1980 case Sturges v. Chilmark, which involved zoning on Martha’s Vineyard.

The AG’s office has previously ruled that towns cannot ban medical marijuana dispensaries because that is contrary to the state law passed on a ballot referendum.

On Sept. 12, Hurley denied a bylaw passed by Canton Town Meeting, which would have ended June 30, 2015. “We recognize that every town’s planning needs are different, and that some towns have professional planning staff while other towns rely solely upon volunteer planning board members. Even in light of these varying planning needs and capacities, it is reasonable to expect a town to complete its planning process for the limited (albeit new and complex) use of [registered marijuana dispensaries] by December 30, 2014, a full 19 months after publication of the DPH regulations,” Hurley wrote.

Towns are required to submit their bylaw changes to the AG for approval. Cities do not have to undergo an AG review for their ordinances.

- A. Metzger/SHNS

Snapshot: The cost of safety

September 19, 2013 05:19 AM

Fire Department spending as a percentage of all expenditure spending, fiscal year, 2012.

Click here to see a larger, interactive version of this chart.
Additional town-by-town snapshots.

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