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April 1, 2013

Veterans services may be regionalized

AMESBURY – City officials have engaged in preliminary discussions about the possibility of merging Amesbury’s Veterans’ Services department with those in Newburyport, Newbury, Merrimac and Salisbury to create a new regionalized service that would serve veterans living in all five communities.

Amesbury has been without a full-time Veterans’ Services Director since Kristen Lucier stepped down in February to take a new position with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Newburyport director Kevin Hunt has been serving as interim director in the meantime, and it is expected he will become the director for the whole region if the change is made official.

Mayor Thatcher Kezer confirmed that the five communities are working to formulate a regional veterans district, but added that there are still issues with the state that have to be worked out before anything is finalized.

Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington said the hold up is a quirk in the law that allows only one city at a time to be included in such a grouping, according to a memo sent to the Salisbury Board of Selectmen.

“We are looking at having all five communities file a home rule petition to allow us to join together and pool our resources and continue to provide first rate services to our veterans at a more economical cost,” Harrington said, adding that he would be proposing a warrant article to this effect at Town Meeting.

If Hunt were tabbed as the regional director, his day-to-day responsibilities likely wouldn’t change very much. Hunt already services the veterans in Merrimac and Newbury, and by picking up Amesbury he has found his workload increase substantially in recent months.

“It has been hectic, the first couple of weeks you have two full time positions that for a short time we are going to have operate out of both offices, Amesbury and Newburyport, but I’m finding that I’ve got a handle on it and we’re getting all of the priorities handled,” Hunt said. “I don’t believe anyone is waiting any longer than they normally would have for callbacks and things like that.”

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