NEW FAIRFIELD – At its regular August 23 meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted to recommend a $120,000 appropriation from the Town’s 2017-2018 budget surplus to the Board of Finance to fund New Fairfield police officers to act as School Resource Officer (SRO) at the Middle School. If this appears to be de ja vous, you are right. The Board made a similar request at its previous meeting. The key difference is that the previous request had come before the Board of Education had voted to request such an appropriation from the BOS, something that Selectman Kim Hanson took issue with as he voted against the original proposal.
A good portion of the Board of Finance also had a problem with the out of order process, and the BOF rejected the proposal by a 3 to 3 vote at its August 15 meeting. While noting that they weren’t opposed to the motion and the proposal itself, the dissenting BOF members felt that approving an appropriation to go to a town meeting before the BOE had voted to request it violated the process, was contrary to the Board had acted on similar situations in the past and would set an uncomfortable precedent going forward.
On August 16, the BOE met and discussed the school district’s needs and the recommendation of the School Safety & Security Committee, which cited a recommendation made in the recently completed school security audit to have School Resource Officers in all four school buildings. The BoE voted a request the $120,000 appropriation from the Board of Selectmen, paving the way for the BOS to approve the request.
The BOS voted on the motion, and it passed by a 2 to 1 margin, with Mr. Hanson voting against. The proposal will go back to the Board of Finance for approval at a special meeting that was set to be held Mon., Aug. 27. The Board of Selectmen was to hold a special meeting immediately following that to set a date and time for a Town Meeting to vote on the matter.
The plan, as explained by First Selectman Pat Del Monaco, would be to rotate New Fairfield police officers to act as an SRO during Middle School hours, much as they did at all the schools during the latter part of the previous school year. The amount of the appropriation would cover the cost of overtime for the officers to provide coverage at the Middle School. Mr. Hanson voiced concerns about the amount being spent on using overtime for police officers acting as SROs and questioned the ratio of effectiveness of the SRO program compared to dollars spent. Selectman Khris Hall voiced concern about the sustainability of using police overtime to provide coverage, noting she did not feel such a program was sustainable in the long term. However, she acknowledged it was the best option available now for the short term.
The Board also voted to approve an addendum to the Tetra Tech contract to increase the amount paid from $170,000 to $230,000. This is the second such amendment to the contract. Tetra Tech is the firm that is monitoring the amount of brush being gathered in the storm clean up and then chipped and shipped out. Ms. Del Monaco cited the extra number of days as well as the increase in number of crews on the road as the reason for the increase. She noted that Tetra has agreed that the final amount will cover the completion of the project. Mr. Hanson stated that the contract was to be paid by the day, not necessarily by the number of crews out. The addendum passed by a vote of 2 to 0, with Mr. Hanson abstaining.
Ms. Del Monaco gave a brief storm debris removal update. She noted that the pickup would be complete most likely by Saturday, August 25, but definitely by the following Tuesday. To date, 12,000 cubic yards of debris have been cleared from along private roads, and 74,000 cubic yards have been cleared from along town-maintained roads. The total amount of chipped material is over 21,000 cubic yards.
The Board also had a preliminary discussion of a possible blight ordinance proposal. Prior to the meeting, Ms. Del Monaco had distributed a previous proposal to the Board for it to review. The Board Members also reviewed several ordinances enacted by other local municipalities. Ms. Del Monaco noted that other municipalities did not mention grass or lawns in their ordinances. Ms. Hall pointed to Ridgefield’s ordinance as one that could be taken as a model. She noted that Ridgefield’s ordinance outlined the creation of a blight prevention board to review cases and provide an appeal process. She also noted that their ordinance provided more leeway to residents because it more clearly defined different categories of blight than the last ordinance proposal in New Fairfield. Mr. Hanson suggested any new blight ordinance proposal should not include any items already covered under existing ordinances. In the end, Ms. Del Monaco proposed to incorporate key elements of Ridgefield’s ordinance with the New Fairfield one for discussion at the next BOS meeting. She also encouraged members of the public to contact her with their opinions and suggestions for a blight ordinance, both pro and con.
The next regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Thursday, September 13 at 7:30 pm in the Community Center.
By Greg Slomba