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RMV warned of closings in April

Site proposals a newer revelation

This is what the Registry is proposing for changes inside the Charlton Mass Pike rest area. The line along the bottom represents a planned 5-foot-wide walkway from the parking area to the proposed Registry site (the building at top left) with handicapped ramps at the road crossing and elsewhere. Courtesy photo/RMV. (click for larger version)
July 29, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Saying local legislators were surprised by the notice the Southbridge Registry office is slated for moving Aug. 10, state Rep. Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton, indicated they intend to keep pressuring the agency to reverse course.

"We're still going to work hard to make her see that where it would work in Boston, Worcester or Springfield, it won't work here," he said. " When the announcements were made, everything was already in place to go forward with their vision without notifying the communities involved or the legislators of those districts. But that's when the process should start."

Alicea was referring to state Registrar Rachel Kaprelian, who is in the process of closing or moving about 11 branches statewide.

The Associated Press, however, ran a brief story months ago indicating the changes weren't just sprung on the Legislature in July. Dated April 29, it states Kaprelian sent them a memo "that trimming her budget from the $50.3 million proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick to the $48.9 million proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee will force her to close 11 of the RMV's 35 branches."

Jared Cain, an aide to state Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, said he doesn't recall seeing such a warning in print, but it wasn't news either.

"As far as I know, the RMV has always been under consideration in tough times," he said. "There were no specifics as to which branches would be closed, but cuts were a consideration."

He said all communication that he's aware of between the senator's office and the Registry has been verbal. Moore did not get any written plans regarding the closings or the Charlton site from the Registry, but the issue in general has been discussed.

"We have worked on striking some kind of compromise" that would allow his districts' two offices — Southbridge and Milford — to remain open in some form, Cain said.

Alicea said he also never saw the images the Registry emailed to the Southbridge Evening News late last week.

Those images depict a variety of changes — mostly signs and line painting — to the Charlton rest area, its small employee parking lot, access driveway and nearby parts of Route 20. The most obvious change involves building a walkway from the parking lot to the building along the edge of a truck lane.

What's not seen on the ground is a significant change in how the Registry does business. For months, it has been working to shift a lot of its business to its Web site, eliminate many mailings and make other changes that save it money.

Alicea said the Registry's trying to save $1.3 million, but he argued such a Web focus doesn't work as well in central and western Massachusetts as it does east of 128.

"I think she has a different vision of what the Registry should be doing than we do," Alicea said. "But every Registry is not serving people the same way as in other communities."

In this region, for example, more rural areas often don't have broadband Internet access, while the Boston area "is pretty much advanced" in that technology, he said. That's why the local delegations and officials are appealing to Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who knows the area better because he's from Worcester, Alicea added.

"We're still trying to work on this. We're not throwing in the white towel," he said. " We felt good about our meeting [with Murray Tuesday], but the final decisions has got to be [Kaprelian's]."

Big Bunny owner Pete Cournoyer, whose family has been the Registry's landlord for 30 years, isn't expecting much to change.

"We made an overture to them to renegotiate the lease about three weeks ago and they never responded," he said, claiming the offer included reducing the rent in exchange for an extension of the lease period. The current five-year lease is about half over.

His brother-in-law Mark Palmerino actually manages the real estate issues, and Cournoyer noted he was dealing with the Division of Capital Asset Management, not RMV. DCAM handles all state leases and other property issues.

"It sounds selfish, but it's a common-sense move on our part," Cournoyer said. "When you consider all the associated issues of moving [to Charlton] and operating out of there it doesn't make sense. What's good for Southbridge is good for us."

Alicea said he'd prefer to see the Registry finish out the current lease while working to find a less expensive or free publicly-owned site to move to afterward. Southbridge Town Manager Christopher Clark showed the state one such place — the former water department building on Foster Street — and others probably exist in nearby towns.

"I don't know what else we could do," Cournoyer added. "I don't think there's anything legally we could do. It's just a matter of seeing if public influence can have an effect."

Gus Steeves can be reached at 508-909-4135 or by e-mail at gsteeves@stonebridgepress.com.

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