Selectmen in Easton will pull out of a new regional veterans’ services district that they proposed just a little over a year ago, citing an increase in red-tape oversight that complicates a vision meant to be simple.
The town will remain a member of Crossroads Veterans Services District with Foxborough, Mansfield, and Norton until June 30, said the town administrator, David Colton, following the selectmen’s vote last week to secede.
Beginning in July, the start of the new fiscal year, veterans who need services will be assisted by an autonomous veterans’ services officer, yet to be hired, who will be paid about $68,000, he said. Advertising for the position was set to begin this week.
“We always thought a district was a good idea,’’ said Colton. But once the group was formed, he said, it began building a bureaucracy “that didn’t need to be built” and caused constant battles.
“I don’t want to fight. I just want to provide services to veterans,” said Colton.
Easton took steps to establish Crossroads when the veterans’ services officer that the town had formerly shared with neighboring Norton went out on a disability leave and then retired, he said.
Regionalization was thought to be a way to save money while ensuring that all veterans in the four member towns were served if any one officer was unavailable for any length of time, Colton said. Adding clerical staff freed up agents to get out and work with veterans personally, he said.
In the beginning, Mansfield’s former agent, John Hogan, was the new district’s head service provider, but he was injured last fall, and then retired, officials said.
That left Michael C. Johns and Heath D. Hobson, both of Foxborough’s veterans services department, to handle the load.
In an interview, Johns said Easton’s decision caught him off guard. He said there are approximately 5,000 veterans from a variety of wars in the four towns, although not all of them currently need services.
Johns said the district was in the process of hiring a third agent to replace Mansfield’s Hogan when rumors began to circulate that Easton was not happy.
“One of the big benefits was the four towns are demographically similar and geographically close,’’ Johns said. “But some people were restless because you don’t realize the savings right away.”
Officials in Mansfield and Norton also said they were taken aback by Easton’s decision to walk away but pledged to move forward together.
As part of the regional deal, communities in the district must have borders that touch. Mansfield is the only town connected to the other remaining two, officials said.
“I can tell you that Mansfield has no plans to withdraw from the district,” said Olivier Kozlowski, chairman of the Mansfield selectmen.
Veterans’ representatives of the remaining three towns and their town managers planned to meet April 30 to discuss next steps.
Colton said Easton’s decision was based on ongoing rancor as well as recent proposals that did not sit well with his selectmen.
For example, he said, the new district’s management team wanted the authority to hire and fire its own employees and establish an independent information technology infrastructure.
But each town already has existing municipal resources and an executive who handles human resource duties, he said.
In a memo to selectmen last week that recommended the split, Colton wrote that “cultural” differences had become too apparent, as well as the rising costs of what he described as a “mission creep.” Johns said he had no idea what those cultural differences might be.
As time goes on, Johns said the remaining communities might be open to bringing in another contiguous town, should one express interest. So far, however, that has not happened, he said.
In the meantime, a plan to bring in a third agent may have to be scaled back to a part-time position, he said, which is some cause for concern.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.