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HOPKINTON — Members of the Hopkinton Town Council have extended an invitation to Richmond council members to sit down and discuss possible changes to the Chariho Act.
At the Monday Town Council meeting, council Vice President Sylvia Thompson said it was time for the two towns to join forces.
“We have an opportunity to go and talk to Richmond and say ‘join us. We have had a problem for decades. Will you consider joining us on our issues, and we’ll join you on yours?’” she said.
The third town in the Chariho Regional School District, Charlestown, has said it will oppose any measures that would reopen the Chariho Act, the law that governs the district.
Richmond is drafting two bills, one that would amend the current matriculation provision in the Chariho Act that requires children to attend elementary schools in the towns where they live, and a second that would reduce the School Committee from 11 members to 9.
The town has asked state Rep. Larry Valencia, D-District 39, to introduce the bills in the General Assembly, and Valencia, who attended the Hopkinton council meeting, said he planned to do so as soon as the bills were ready.
Hopkinton councilors were generally supportive of both of Richmond’s proposals, but Thompson said she wondered if other matters such as Chariho funding, a priority for Hopkinton, might also be brought to the legislature.
“If we end up deciding that both towns are in favor of other things, in addition to these two things, do we have time? It’s not something that would have to be voted on right away?” she asked Valencia.
“If you come up with other ideas besides these two ideas, there’s plenty of time to introduce that legislation. We have probably until the middle of May,” Valencia replied.
Councilor Barbara Capalbo said that Richmond, which will see its Chariho contribution rise by more than $78,000 in 2014-15 because of an increase in enrollment of just five students, is now experiencing some of Hopkinton’s financial pain.
Hopkinton has suggested a uniform school tax rate for the district, similar to that of a fire district comprising several towns.
“Perhaps finally, because Richmond is having the taxes we have had, maybe in the next couple of years as they keep struggling with these higher taxes, they will be more receptive to changing the Chariho Act on funding,” she said.
Proposals for legislative changes to the Chariho Act without the consent of all three member towns have been seen as futile to pursue, but Valencia noted that unanimity was no longer necessary.
“Whether an idea needs to have the support of all three towns to pass through the legislature, as you know, I believe all three towns were against the elimination of the regionalization bonus. So I think the General Assembly has the right to do whatever they want to do to the Chariho Act. They’ve proven that in the past,” he said.
Council members expressed their disappointment that Valencia, who represents Richmond and part of Hopkinton, would be promoting Richmond’s agenda in the legislature, but Valencia said he was simply representing his district.
“The Town of Richmond, that’s 57 percent of my district, has asked me to do this, so I’m going to go forward with it. I would hope, especially on the matriculation issue, that you would join them and we’d all be on the same page,” he said.
In 2012, redistricting split Hopkinton into two districts with two state representatives, Valencia and Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-District 38. Thompson complained that Hopkinton was left with fragmented, and therefore weakened, representation.
“That’s our problem,” Thompson told Valencia. “In Hopkinton, we don’t have anybody that represents us. We have people that represent us, but it’s a piece, so we have no political clout.”
She suggested that Hopkinton consider pursuing changes that would go far beyond those proposed by Richmond.
“If we just went along with these two items, or even just the matriculation, we’ve just lost our leverage,” she said. “We have an opportunity for more, an opportunity to change the Chariho Act. We have legislative people who will listen to us … We should at least have a conversation, because we may end up with a stronger bill, or three separate bills. And maybe it doesn’t go anywhere, but we have to try.”
Council President Frank Landolfi said he would contact Richmond officials to try to arrange a meeting. Thompson said she hoped the towns could agree on changes that would surpass the two bills Richmond is drafting.
“Richmond can have what they want, but let’s really deal with the problems of the Chariho Act. We’ll go over and talk to them and say ‘look, why are you only doing this? Why are you nibbling at this? Let’s work together and try to resolve all of the issues,’” she said.