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Finance Committee Narrowly Supports Bus Costs

By a narrow 6-5 vote, the Finance Committee voted on April 27 to give Town Meeting Members a favorable recommendation on spending $250,000 to bring bus service to Milford. The committee's action left it with just two or three items on the May 23 Annual Town Meeting warrant to review.

"We're way ahead of schedule," commented Chairman Marc Schaen. Prior to taking up the article on bus transportation, the committee voted to support a $300,000 Information Technology request from the School Department and – following well more than a hour's discussion – decided to ask the Personnel Board back this month to continue discussing its proposed "Classification and Compensation Study."

Committee members had a difficult time following and consultant Donald Jacobs' explanation on how the proposed new classification system would work."If we're confused, they'll [employees] be confused," member Michael Soares said. "This is incredible to me how complicated this is," Schaen added. And, committee member Alberto Correia noted he had an easier time sequencing genes than trying to follow Jacobs' presentation. The committee decided to write down its questions for the Personnel Board and Jacobs to review before their next meeting.

In discussing the proposed bus service with the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority, both Selectmen Chairman William Buckley and Harold Rhodes, chair of the Milford Commission on Disability, described it as a contract-less "pilot program" that could be changed or even cancelled if ridership did not develop. The town would pay the MWRTA on a monthly basis and "We only owe them for the time they've served us," Rhodes explained.

Schaen questioned what the criteria for success would be and Buckley listed ridership, courtesy and responsiveness of MWRTA employees, cleanliness of buses and sticking to bus schedules of examples this his proposed Transportation Advisory Committee would monitor. MWRTA representative Carl Damigella promised to provide ridership data to the town on a monthly basis.

Committee member Robert DeVita challenged Rhodes' ridership projections by saying, "They're just guesses," he said. "If we're going to run a trail, that's fine," he added, provided the criteria for success is spelled out in advance."

Correia stated the bus service was not a test. "This is Milford. Are we willing to spend a couple of hundred thousand to see if we provide a service to our community because we think it could provide a huge benefit?" he asked. "It's very simple. Does it work or not?"

"This committee does not understand why this is such a priority right now," Schaen noted, asking why the issue couldn't be studied more and brought up at the fall Special Town Meeting. Rhodes explained that it is easier to develop ridership in the summer months as opposed to the winter months that would follow the traditional late October Special Town Meeting.

Soares noted, "I want this to be successful," but added, "There's so many details still to be worked out."

"Were other alternatives discussed?" Schaen asked. Rhodes explained he had contacted many other transportation companies and all said they could not "scale up" to handle a whole town. "The best way to solve it is as we've outlined," he added. Buckley added, "The MWRTA are experts at delivering bus service to a community."

"This thing will never pay for itself," committee member Aldo Cecchi said. "This is going to be an ongoing expense for the community." Added committee member Philip Ciaramicoli, "As a committee, we're just focused on value. Does the benefit outweigh the cost?"

"I'm just not convinced this is the right solution," committee member Jeff Niro said. "What we haven't seen is an alternative to this project," Schaen said. Committee Vice Chair Christopher Morin added. "I feel that this town needs more transportation." While Ciaramicoli said, "I guess we have to jump in to see if it's going to work. I think the ability to monitor this is critical."

"This is about, 'Are we willing to bet money to take care of Milfordians?'" asked Correia.


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