Barely six weeks after the program was launched on a limited basis, plans to relocate the new multi-town regional dispatch agency to permanent quarters off Route 1 are continuing to move forward.
Town Manager William Keegan said last week that bid documents will be issued before month’s end to perform renovations to a long-vacant communications facility located in the High Rock section of the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest.
The Southeastern Massachusetts Regional 911 District board met in closed session Tuesday morning to discuss building design, security systems and engineering strategies for the proposed High Rock facility.
Since the beginning of July the regional agency — which provides emergency public safety communications for Foxboro, Mansfield, Easton and Norton — has been operating out of the Foxboro public safety building.
At present, only Foxboro and Mansfield are actively participating in the regional program. Norton and Easton, the other two district members, will join at a date to be determined.
Selectmen Chairman Mark Elfman said he was favorably impressed by a recent tour of the temporary operation in Foxboro.
“The big thing is when you call 911 you get right through to [the new agency],” Elfman said. “You don’t get patched through Framingham or anywhere else.”
Elfman said public safety officials estimate the improved communications could take from 3 to 5 minutes off emergency response times.
Charter school tuitions dip
Foxboro is in line to receive more than a quarter-million dollars in unanticipated state aid based on the state budget signed recently by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Town Manager William Keegan told selectmen last week the unexpected windfall reflects a reduction in the amount charged by the state for Foxboro students attending charter schools.
In Massachusetts, charter schools are funded by tuition charges assessed against local school districts where students reside. The state also provides partial reimbursement to sending districts for tuition costs incurred.
According to state cherry sheet estimates, Foxboro’s charter school assessment for the fiscal year that began July 1 is $2,090,686, down nearly 9 percent from the town’s $2,334,300 assessment in fiscal 2019.
Partially offsetting this gain is a corresponding decrease in Foxboro’s charter school reimbursement for fiscal 2020, which was reduced to $207,506 from $375,815 the prior year.
Keegan did not specify any plans for the unanticipated funds.
Cable access funding squeeze
New federal rules that scale back the amount that cable providers must pay to fund local access operations will likely have less of an impact in Foxboro than in other communities.
According to Town Manager William Keegan, Foxboro Cable Access will be less affected by the changes because the corporation owns its own building on Central Street and is therefore more financially secure.
Historically, community programming was supported by franchise fees paid by cable companies (capped at 5 percent of the company’s gross revenue), as well as “in-kind benefits” such as free channels to carry programs and cable service to schools and government buildings negotiated in licensing agreements with towns.
But the Federal Communications Commission recently adopted a rule change that enables cable providers to use the value of some in-kind benefits to reduce franchise fees. The upshot is less money for local access corporations.
“We more or less anticipated this was going to be the case,” said Keegan, adding that local access programming has become more important to community awareness with the demise of print media outlets.