Published October 03. 2012 4:00AM
Montville - The police department is "trapped in a time warp" and the town must move to rid itself of the distinction of being the largest in the state to rely on a resident state trooper program, according to a recent independent consultant report.
The report recommends the town form its own independent police department by 2015 and hire a professional police chief. It also should overhaul its four fire companies, consolidating them into a unified department to better meet the needs of its growing population.
The town paid $46,000 for the 147-page report. It was designed to identify the town's public safety deficiencies and present ways to address them.
While the report does not specify the costs of the changes, it generally argues that the town needs to move away from many of its old public safety practices.
"The real job ahead is for us to look at the report and identify what's doable for the town," Town Council Chairwoman Candy Buebendorf said. She declined to discuss specific recommendations before the report is reviewed more thoroughly. "I think it's very helpful to have an outside pair of eyes to evaluate where we are and the direction they recommend we go."
The town, which had a population of 19,571 in the 2010 census, is currently the largest in the state to rely on a resident state trooper program to oversee its police department, according to the report. The town pays for a state police trooper to supervise operations. The program was established in 1947 in part for small towns to work with state police to avoid expenses such as running their own jails.
The report argues that with the town's new public safety building set to open later this year on Route 32, now would be the right time to incorporate an independent police force.
Voters approved $6.5 million for the facility, which includes a lockup and the capability for a state-of-the-art dispatch center - the cost of which previously was used as an argument against moving to an independent police force. The report also said that in 2010-11, the town paid $143,140 for the resident state trooper program, and its elimination could create savings for an independent department.
The report details a number of micro-management issues within the 24-person department that have led to low morale, and identifies other problems areas. One section points out that the department's mission statement contains grammatical errors.
The report also says the town has grown too large for the mayor to act as chief of police, a provision of the town charter, and recommends hiring a new chief at approximately $100,000 per year.
Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. said he would hold off on addressing specific recommendations of the plan. At a public presentation, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 29, the consultant will answer questions and explain the report's recommendations.
"It's really up to not one or two people, but the council and all of the citizens with some of the things that are in the plan," McDaniel said.
The report also argues for vast changes in the town's fire companies. It says Raymond Occhialini, the town's fire marshal, has too many responsibilities for one person.
Fire services director
The report recommends the town, at the very least, should employ a director of fire services to oversee the four volunteer companies - Chesterfield, Mohegan, Montville and Oakdale - and its 11 full-time fire personnel. It suggests a $65,000 annual salary for the director.
Town Councilor Gary Murphy, chief of the Oakdale Fire Co., said he favors the idea of a director of fire services who could ease the burden on fire chiefs. But both he and Occhialini said Tuesday that the report provides an imperfect view of the current fire and emergency response system.
"The plan is a company's opinion," Occhialini said. "I do not believe that they have spent enough time in town to see our operations. They didn't spend enough time here for $50,000. You really need to spend time in the town and get in the trenches."
The report indicates that employees from Almont Associates conducted a site visit during five days in May. Former fire and police personnel, some of whom used to work in the state, comprise consulting firm.
Other recommendations include combining the Montville and Mohegan fire companies at one location on Raymond Hill Road and following a model implemented in 2003 in Mansfield that combined that town's fire companies into a unified department.
The Town Council voted in January to spend $46,000 on the public safety plan. The council vote was 4-3 in favor of the plan. Murphy and councilors Rosetta Jones and Dana McFee cast dissenting votes, arguing it would be a waste of taxpayer money.
Eventually, it will be left to the council and Public Safety Commission to implement any part of the plan they find suitable for the town. Some say the changes will prove too costly.
"I guarantee none of it will be followed. We spent $46,000 and threw it out the window," McFee said.