Charlestown, Mutual Aid Settle

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 2/3/2019 9:57:15 PM
Modified: 2/3/2019 9:57:19 PM

CHARLESTOWN — Under a settlement has been reached between the town and Southwestern Mutual Aid of Keene, the town will pay about 25 percent of the amount the dispatch organization was seeking after Charlestown resigned its dispatch membership in 2015.

Under the agreement, approved by both parties last month, Charlestown will pay Mutual Aid $7,500 and both sides agree to end all litigation in the matter.

Charlestown Town Adminstrator Travis Royce said the town denies any liability with respect to the claims made by Southwestern Mutual Aid but said the settlement was a prudent decision to avoid further legal expenses.

“The Charlestown Selectboard entered into this settlement only as a means to reduce the financial impact of defending itself in this case brought by Mutual Aid against the Town of Charlestown,” Royce wrote about the decision.

Royce noted in his statement that in October, a Cheshire County Superior Court judge ruled in the town’s favor with respect to one breach of contract claim by Southwestern Mutual Aid, which sought to collect about $25,000 in membership dues following the town’s decision to withdraw as a dispatch member.

The Charlestown Selectboard had informed the organization in a Feb. 3, 2015, letter it planned to withdraw as a dispatch member effective July 1 of that year because of escalating costs. On March 31, the town sent a check for $21,533 to cover the dispatch member dues for six months.

Mutual Aid’s bylaws stated any withdrawal by a member would not take effect for 90 days. Charlestown also wanted to be accepted as a “non-dispatch member,” which cost less.

According to court documents, Mutual Aid’s Board of Directors held a special meeting eight days after Charlestown’s letter and agreed to change the bylaws stating that withdrawal notices would not take effect for 365 days.

But when the membership held its annual meeting in April 2015, the 90-day withdrawal period was reinstated, according to a court filing by Charlestown.

The town also noted in its filing that Mutual Aid Chief Philip Tyrell told the membership in a letter that Charlestown was no longer a dispatch member as of July 1, 2015.

In mid-July of 2015, Mutual Aid sent Charlestown an invoice for the second installment of annual dues, which the town refused to pay.

It sent a subsequent invoice in March 2016.

Southwestern Mutual Aid took Charlestown to court in June 2017, seeking about $25,000 in annual membership dues and nearly $5,000 for what it said was Charlestown’s obligation on a $405,000 loan the 52-member organization took out to buy property in Keene in 2010 for new headquarters.

In his 26-page ruling issued in October, Judge David Ruoff said Mutual Aid had no expectation of receiving further dues from Charlestown.

“On evidence before the court, there is no basis for the Mutual Aid to seek any dues from the town because it ceased providing services to the town on July 1, 2015 and the town provided payment for services up to that point,” Ruoff wrote.

On the issue of whether Charlestown owed money for the loan, Ruoff said the court lacked sufficient evidence to make that determination and therefore denied the town’s motion to dismiss the second breach of contract claim.

Royce said settling was clearly a less expensive choice for the Selectboard.

“Even though the Town received a favorable decision from the court, the Selectboard realized that this litigation would still result in considerable expense for the Town in going to trial on the remaining counts from which the Board chose to accept a settlement agreement in order to achieve finality in this matter and save the Town additional legal expense in defending itself in this case,” Royce wrote in his statement.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com




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