CHATHAM–It was standing room only in the large, upstairs room of the Tracy Memorial last week for a regular Village Board meeting. The majority of the 50 people in the room were there to argue with the board over a plan to cut 250 hours out of this year’s village police operations, a move that will save the village $17,000.
Many people spoke of feeling safer in the village because local police answer calls quickly. Critics of the plan also said they were frustrated with what they described as the board’s lack of transparency on the issue.
Village resident Liz Chapman said she came to the meeting to ask: “What’s going on with the board?,” accusing board members of changing the meeting date to hide the plans to cut police shifts.
“I feel that there is a lot of secrecy,” said High Street resident Nancy Thaler. She also told the board that by cutting the police, they were “compromising the safety of the community.” There were many similar comments during the public comment section held at the beginning of the meeting, and several people called out their concerns during the regular meeting as Mayor Tom Curran tried to explain his position on the issue.
The mayor said that the reduction of hours was less than a 3% cut in the 24/7 service that village police currently provide. He said the board also plans to increase the pay for part-time officers in the hopes of retaining more qualified police officers. Mayor Curran said he did not what to be specific about the hours that would be cut but he mentioned early Sunday shifts as an area were the cuts could be made.
In the end the board did not vote on whether to approve decreasing the hours of police coverage. An email from Mayor Curran after the meeting
explained that “according to village law, the mayor determines the number of police, the shifts that are covered and how the police are to be deployed. The reduction is not subject to vote by the Board of Trustees, nor a public referendum.” He did not indicate which whether or not he would approve the cut.
The board also received budget information from Michael Richardson, the co-chair of the village Audit Committee, during the meeting. Mr. Richardson, a village resident, also advises the board on labor issues, and he spoke during the discussions about the police and the issue of hiring substitute laborers for fall street clean-up and snow removal. But residents at the meeting took issue with Mr. Richardson being able to address the board so frequently.
Mr. Richardson said he was not there to give the board his opinion and did not want to debate members of the audience.
Concern about the planned cut in police hours spilled over to a second public comment period later at the end of the meeting. Addressing the
crowd at that point Trustee Lenore Packet said the board had to weigh the needs of all village government departments. “It’s a tough task…
meeting the needs of each department,” she said.
The board plans to transfer money from the police budget to help pay for a new fire truck. But former Mayor Paul Boehme told board members
they didn’t need to move money to pay for the truck since the board plans to borrow funds to purchase the vehicle.
Former Village Clerk/Treasurer Carol Simmons said funds already in the budget can be used to cover the costs of maintaining the police. She
said the village budget is online at the village website, villageofchatham.com, and available for people to see.
Trustee Lael Locke, who earlier in the meeting said she was not happy with the plan to cut the hours of the police on Sundays, said that the cost of the Police Department was an issue for many villagers when they elected the current board. “There was a huge concern about the police budget and there was a huge concern about taxes,” she said of the last two elections, in which voters elected a new mayor and new trustees to fill all the seat’s but Ms. Locke’s.
She suggested having a referendum vote on the police cuts, telling the people at the meeting, “You may find that you are out-voted.”
Mr. Richardson told the board they would have to ask the village attorney whether they can hold a referendum on the issue.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the Tracy Memorial.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email firstname.lastname@example.org.