Montville discusses big changes to police, fire

Montville - Opinions were mixed at a public forum Monday night as residents weighed in on a consultant's proposed changes to the town's public safety operations.

"We are no longer a little, rural town," said Julius Jurkiewicz, a former member of the public safety commission, who said the town should move to an independent police department. "We have to do something around here to get into (this) century."

Almont Associates, the consultant, gave a 45-minute presentation about the 147-page report it prepared about the town's public safety operation. The town paid $46,000 for the report and the forum presented the first chance for people to ask questions and comment on its recommendations.

They include wholesale changes to the town's police and fire departments. The report argues for the implementation of an independent police department by 2015 and the hiring of a professional police chief. The town currently uses a resident state trooper program, in which it pays state police for many services and a trooper to provide oversight of the department.

Recommendations also include merging the town's four fire companies into one department, hiring a new director of fire services and adopting an ordinance that would require all new buildings in town to be fully covered by sprinkler systems.

Many who spoke said they were satisfied with the town's current public safety initiatives and expressed concern the cost of suggested improvements would fall on the backs of taxpayers.

"Why is the transfer station the social center of town?" said Richard Wilson, a former town councilor. "Montville people do not like change. They are suspicious of any newfangled idea that will raise their taxes."

Associates from Almont stressed many of the report's findings are long-range recommendations. They also said it would be unlikely the town would implement every suggestion the report made.

In many cases, the report does not list the costs associated with proposed public safety initiatives. Determining those costs will be work assigned to the public safety commission.

Russell Wehner, a commission member, said many have incorrectly assumed that many of the report's suggestions will be fiscally impossible for the town.

"When you look at these numbers, I think you'll find the cost to establish a department is not going to be as staggering as you believe it to be," Wehner said of the independent police force.

The Town Council voted 4-3 in January to authorize the town to find a consultant to work on the public safety plan. Almont Associates, based in Port Orange, Fla., is comprised of many former law enforcement and fire officials.

The consulting company based the report on visits to the town, personal interviews, analysis of past studies and a look at national and regional standards.

Many of its recommendations covered training practices and a perceived lack of documentation being done in several town departments.

Town Councilor Rosetta Jones said it would be wise for the town to first address these problems before it looked into bigger change.

"It would be a good start to implement the policies and the procedures that have no costs associated with them," she said. "Our town is really known for a lot of unnecessary lawsuits. We have had a lot of unsettling situations that have occurred."

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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