Police budget OK’d

Feb 12, 2019 by

Published in the February 12, 2019 edition.

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD – In a lengthy discussion that covered areas from parking to drug addiction, the Town Council last night voted 5-2 to approve the $5,947,868 FY 2020 Police Department budget. The budget includes $48,000 for two part-time civilian parking attendants to increase enforcement in business districts with the aim of turning over parking spaces more frequently and increasing parking availability.

Councilors Mehreen Butt and Julie Smith-Galvin opposed the funding for parking enforcement and voted against the Police budget.

Town Accountant Kevin Gill presented the breakdown of the budget numbers, with Police Chief Rick Smith alongside to answer questions.

Town Councilors took the opportunity to discuss the problem of drug addiction from the perspective of the police.

In response to a question from Town Councilor Tony Longo, Chief Smith said that the cost of the overdose reversing drug Narcan had doubled. He noted that with the increase in overdoses involving Fentanyl, it can take up to four doses of Narcan to revive a victim. He said that his officers responded to 61 overdoses in 2018 and administered 34 doses of Narcan. He stressed that this does not include doses that were given by the Fire Department, Action Ambulance or family members.

Town Councilor Paul DiNocco asked about the possibility of getting support programs in town for drug addiction, such as Narcotics Anonymous. Town Councilor Ann Santos agreed that Wakefield needed such a program.

In response, Smith noted the addition of a part-time recovery coach in next year’s Police budget. He also talked about the post-overdose support that his officers provide to victims and families to make them aware of available services.

Asked about grants for addiction programs, Chief Smith said that such grants typically go to larger cities where the problem may be more acute. But he noted that Wakefield has partnered with a number of other communities to apply for and receive funding for addiction programs.

Town Councilor Mehreen Butt maintained that the Town Council itself should be doing more to find funding for addiction programs.

The Town Council delayed voting on the Police budget until after a discussion on the possible hiring of two part-time parking attendants and the purchase of two hand-held devices to aid enforcement.

Town Councilor Edward Dombroski presented a proposal for the two part-time parking attendants that he said would pay for itself and be budget-neutral. He said that increased enforcement would increase turnover of spaces and create more parking availability.

He said that hiring two civilians to work 19 hours each per week would allow police to focus on areas of policing that would make better use of their time and skills. He maintained that if the attendants write only eight tickets a day, the program would pay for itself. The total annual cost of the two attendants and the devices would be $48,000.

Town Councilor Julie Smith-Galvin questioned the claim that the program would be budget-neutral, wondering if there could be some unanticipated costs. She also doubted that there would be sufficient violations to make the program budget-neutral. She said that she would rather spend the money on hiring an economic development director.

Dombroski pointed to the $36,000 in parking fines pulled in by police last year with limited and inconsistent enforcement, saying that he saw no problem generating $48,000 with stepped-up enforcement.

Chief Smith and Police Lt. Steven Skory said that they saw the number of likely violations easily covering the cost of the attendants and devices.

Chairman Peter May also said that he believed the proposed parking enforcement program would work.

“We need to stop talking about it,” he said. “We need to do something.”

Dombroski noted that unlike other towns, Wakefield offers free parking. Without enforcement, he observed, that is bound to be abused.

Chief Smith raised several questions, including how long violation data would be retained.

Town Councilor Mehreen Butt said that she was concerned that the board was coming at the parking issue from an enforcement and economic standpoint before doing any public education or outreach.

But DiNocco pointed out that it was the merchants and the public who had pushed the town to address parking time limits and enforcement. He noted that promoting it would be premature until the Town Council approves the proposal. He noted that police issue tickets now without any advance education or outreach.

Butt said that she was talking more about making people aware of alternative parking areas like the Town Hall parking lot, the lot behind Brightview and the one on Water Street near Omelette Headquarters.

Ultimately, DiNocco made the motion to approve the Police Department budget with the addition of $48,000 for the two part-time parking attendants and the two devices, bringing the budget total to $5,947,868.

The budget passed with Dombroski, Santos, Longo, May and DiNocco in favor. Butt and Smith-Galvin voted against the Police Department budget.

Moving on to parking signage, DiNocco presented a document outlining proposed changes to parking time limits. In general, the proposal called for all areas currently posted as one-hour parking to be changed to two-hour parking. Specific exceptions were noted, such as streets that allow parking only on one side, have pre-existing shorter time limits or restrict parking at certain times of day. DiNocco said that he and Lt. Skory had spent some time preparing the list.

The Town Council approved the changes unanimously.

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