This offer may be too good for East Lyme to pass up

East Lyme’s first selectman and other town officials studying possible future homes for the local police force hope the third time’s the charm they need to convince residents to approve money to develop a consolidated public safety complex. Residents shot down public safety complex proposals in 2004 and 2007. Now town leaders are floating a new plan to buy a 30,000-square-foot office building on a 17-acre parcel for about $2.8 million and spend another $3.2 million to renovate the structure.

First Selectman Mark C. Nickerson calls the proposal a “now or never” opportunity for the town’s police and other public safety operations. He and other town officials made many convincing points in favor of the plan at a press conference earlier this month.

While the timing of the bonding proposal just 18 months after residents approved a $37.5 million school building project is giving some residents and officials justifiable pause, we agree this public safety proposal deserves very serious consideration. Not only would it allow police to move out of their current location in a small Niantic building that is plagued by flooding and was never meant to house a police headquarters, but the proposal also allows public safety operations now scattered throughout and outside town to be consolidated. In addition, the site has ample room for other future municipal uses.

The site location close to Interstate 95 and the Rocky Neck Connector will provide police easy access to the entire town. We believe this location makes it ideally suited for possible future Old Lyme-East Lyme police consolidation. If fact, we think the argument in favor of this proposal grows significantly if Old Lyme can be brought on board as a partner.

While discussions about a police service merger have gone slowly, the idea fits well with what has been a goal for this newspaper and should be a priority for the region — finding more ways to collaborate across borders.

What is beyond debate is that the East Lyme police need a more professional headquarters. Those who have looked at and reviewed numerous possible public safety complex sites in town concluded this option is the best available.

Nickerson said the town’s police now work in deplorable conditions. It’s difficult to dispute this.

After participating in the state’s resident trooper program for many years, in 2016 the Board of Selectmen approved an independent police force. That department, with 23 full-time and one part-time officer, operates out of a small building in downtown Niantic that is rented from Dominion Energy. The building is not laid out for efficient police operations and is plagued by leaks and flooding.

In addition, the town pays Waterford $50,000 annually for space for evidence lockup, vehicle storage and jailing facilities. East Lyme’s fire marshal’s office, dispatch center and emergency operations now operate out of a building in Flanders.

All these operations could consolidate at the proposed site, a building now owned by Honeywell Corp. There would be plenty of room remaining for other future town uses, freeing up space at the town’s community center and possibly negating the need for a $4 million to $6 million expansion of the library and senior center.

Public spending should never be taken lightly. And this proposal needs to pass through the normal evaluation process.

It needs approval by the boards of selectmen and finance before it can be brought to residents in the form of a referendum vote. We understand the likely reluctance among some East Lyme residents to agree to spend millions of more dollars so soon after agreeing to pay for costly school upgrades. Still, there are many solid reasons to consider this proposal and we commend the first selectman and others for bringing it forward.

To become fully informed, we urge residents to watch the videos linked to the town’s website of the press conference announcing the proposal and or attend one of the promised upcoming public information sessions.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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