GREENFIELD – City council had a late night Wednesday as it deliberated on the mayor’s capital budget for fiscal 2022, leaving the police department and its request for $ 1.35 million for repairs and modernization of the station until at least mid-May before the chief knows how to proceed.
After another discussion among members of the Ways and Means Committee earlier in the evening – the committee voted 3-2 a negative recommendation – the full board heard from over a dozen members of the public and each of the 13 advisers spoke on the matter.
Greenfield resident Molly Merrett began the public comment portion of the discussion on Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and Mayor Roxann Wedegartner’s request by saying she is “totally against” providing this kind of service. money without a detailed plan or budget.
Merrett argued that before continuing to invest in policing, the city should examine what makes a community safe by forming a review board.
Greenfield resident Marianna Ritchey followed along with others, urging the city not to give police a “blank check.”
When the money is voted into the city’s capital budget, it must be used for what has been requested – in this case, repairs and upgrades to keep people working in the building safe and s ‘make sure everything is up to code.
Nikki Sauber, a Greenfield resident, said she would like to see the money the police are asking for for sidewalks, parks and sewer and water improvements, while Becky Craig said she would like to see the “inflated” police budgets.
Katherine Golub, a resident of Greenfield, said she didn’t like the police request to be so ‘vague’, while Louise Amyot said Greenfield has been lucky, so far, that the Police generally behaved well, but there were some “regrettable” incidents that his friends told him as their paths crossed with the police.
“Take the time to discuss what we expect from the police,” Amyot said. “It is inappropriate to spend millions on the (Greenfield) Police Department without knowing what it will look like later.”
Haigh reminded everyone that the reason he doesn’t have specific forecasts and plans is that just a year ago he was planning to move his ministry to a new public safety compound, which was being talked about. for many years, going back to the former mayor. The administration of William Martin.
Last year, after Wedegartner took office, she learned from her finance team that the city would not be able to afford a public safety complex and a new library, but would instead be in able to build a fire station and library. So the city decided to build a new library, as well as temporary and permanent fire stations, leaving the police where they are in the old Kaiser Permanente building on the High Street.
It appears, according to city officials, it will be another 10 years or more before the city can afford to move the police to a new building. Therefore, Haigh said repairs that weren’t supposed to need to be done now need to be dealt with and completed, including leaks in the roof, safety issues, and relocation of distributors to a small room the size of from a closet to a larger and more updated. space. The plan is to do everything that needs to be done over three years.
“Some of these things need to be done now,” Haigh told those who attended Wednesday’s virtual meeting.
Haigh said that when he became Greenfield Police Chief eight years ago, it was important for his department and for the city to get accreditation, which he accomplished in 2019. He has said that with accreditation there was more oversight and accountability – exactly what residents asked for. Some of the building improvements will need to be completed before the ministry can apply for re-accreditation.
“Why don’t we want to be exceptional?” Haigh asked. “We are one of four accredited departments in western Massachusetts. It’s up to you, if you don’t want us to be accredited.
Police are accredited to standards developed by many of the best public safety practitioners and leaders, according to Haigh. Receiving accreditation is the “golden standard” in law enforcement and its practices.
Haigh also asked councilors to remember that the capital budget is for things like repairing or replacing buildings, vehicles and sidewalks, for example, which should have nothing to do with the local movement and current national aim to “defund” the police or to find alternatives. the police. He said police reform is ongoing and will continue to happen, but those working in the High Street building “should not be punished” for a separate matter.
“They deserve a healthy workplace,” he said, as some advisers shook their heads “yes”.
At the end of the night – the meeting ended at 11:17 p.m. – the board voted unanimously to file the capital budget request for the police station and to hire an architect / engineer to determine exactly what needs to be done and how much it will cost. cost until next month’s meeting on May 19.
The council approved all other items of the capital budget, including money for an ambulance lease for the fire department, gravel crushing for the Department of Public Works, sidewalks and improvements to the l water and sewage system on Sanderson Street, a new skate park, equipment for GCET (Greenfield Community Energy and Technology), water fountains and a bocce court at Beacon Field.
Ward 7 Councilor Otis Wheeler said the police request is “difficult” because, as Haigh said, looking closely at policing is not the same as funding improvements and necessary maintenance of a building where people work every day.
Ward 5 councilor Timothy Dolan said he wanted more documentation before voting $ 1.35 million this year and $ 5 million over three years for the police. Likewise, At-Large adviser Philip Elmer said without a list of repairs and costs the council was at a stalemate.
Ward 1 Councilor Ed Jarvis, a former Greenfield Deputy Fire Chief, said when police learned the public safety complex was no longer on the table, people should have realized it Work should be done at the station to ensure the safety and health of police officers and dispatchers.
“You don’t want to vote because you don’t have plans or estimates,” he told his fellow advisers. “But you just voted for a skate park and another park without seeing any plans. The working conditions of dispatchers are horrible, unacceptable. It must be done. ”
Ward 2 Councilor Dan Guin echoed Jarvis’ sentiments and added that the vote on a capital project is based on structural issues and the city’s accountability to its employees, not the whether people think the police should be disbanded.
“They were promised a public security complex and we did not succeed,” he said. “Now there are problems.”
Guin said if city councilors and officials spoke about a local business that had health, equality, accessibility and safety issues, everyone would be upset. He said the city couldn’t decide to make the necessary repairs and upgrades in one department – a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for the DPW – and not deliver the same to a other department.
“We are setting a precedent and we are opening ourselves to legal action,” he said. “You can’t force one department to one standard and another to another. We need to deal with the issues that put people at risk. ”
At-Large Councilor Christine Forgey suggested the council consider reducing the amount it allocates this year so that the police can hire an architect / engineer and do some of the more urgent work, then reconsider the request. next year, when there will be a list of works. it needs to be done and a more precise estimate of what it will cost.
“Go after me and my operating budget,” Haigh said. “But please, if you punish the police, you also punish the dispatchers. Don’t punish everyone.
City Council President Penny Ricketts said she voted ‘no’ to a public safety complex at the time, but now wishes she had voted for a complex so that the police had a safe and healthy place and no do not have to fight for the necessary repairs and improvements. She also said she would like to see the work that needs to be done on the station funded, rather than the city putting a band-aid on it.
“I want to invest in the police station and take care of its needs,” she said. “I want to do the right thing, and that means some won’t be happy.”
Contact Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or [email protected]