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Reconsider and let East Lyme voters decide police station issue

The East Lyme Board of Finance has a second chance to do the right thing. It can let voters decide if allocating an additional $2.17 million to provide a new station for its police department makes sense or whether town officials need to come up with another plan.

Or the three finance board members now blocking a referendum can continue to take the position only they know best.

Two weeks ago, the board deadlocked 3-3 on a motion which, if it had been approved, would have passed the decision along to referendum.

Last week the Board of Selectmen — unanimously, we point out — agreed to send the matter back to the finance board for reconsideration. Board of Finance Chairwoman Camille Alberti has agreed to place the matter on the board’s Wednesday agenda for discussion.

We understand that the three finance board members who voted against sending this decision along to the voters — Alberti and fellow Democrats Rich Steel and Ann Cicchiello — have their reasons for opposing the project.

Alberti, who lost to Republican First Selectman Mark Nickerson in the 2019 election, contends that Nickerson has been low-balling the cost of the project from the beginning. In February 2019, voters overwhelmingly approved $5 million to convert an existing structure for use as a police station and other public safety uses, with about $2.8 million of that amount used to make the purchase.

It is true that Nickerson, in the midst of his 2019 campaign, stuck steadfastly to a promise that the town could get the job done within the budget, despite an architectural assessment that suggested that would be impossible if the job was to be done right. A task force charged with planning the project concluded the added $2.17 million would be needed.

Alberti told us she is convinced the project will end up costing even more and so she could not, in good conscience, pass the request along to voters. The better option, Alberti argues, is building a new police facility. Steel and Cicchiello, in voting no, likewise questioned the veracity of the new cost estimate, while Steel made it clear there is nothing he likes about the plan.

While we disagree, we respect those opinions. But voters should have the opportunity to weigh in also. Opponents of the additional expenditure could make their concerns known in advance of a referendum. But with a town-wide vote, proponents would get the chance to make their case, too. As things now stand, they will not.

 

The opposing board members could repeat for the record their misgivings, while noting they were changing their votes to a “yes” not as a show of support, but to give voters the last word.

The good people of East Lyme should not lose sight of the one thing most everyone agrees on; town police need a new home. The East Lyme Police Department now leases a building on Main Street in Niantic that is woefully inadequate, leaky, moldy, and too small. It has no cells, with suspects transported to Waterford.

But taxpayers have been reluctant to invest in a new station, leading to the Nickerson administration’s proposal to buy and repurpose the former Honeywell building at 277 West Main St.

There is no denying the controversy that the plan has engendered. Critics say townspeople have been subject to a bait-and-switch, approving the purchase of the building only to later learn that a greater investment would be necessary than the one promised.

Pulling the plug on the plan now would still leave the town with the Honeywell building, however. The administration might, we suppose, try to get the job down with the roughly $2 million left (after the sale price). But do residents of East Lyme want to spend several million dollars only to move police from one inadequate facility to a new inadequate facility?

Or the town can dump this idea and restart the process, delaying for years any relocation of the police force.

Our take is that voters ought to be offered the chance to decide on the added $2.17 million and, if given that opportunity, should approve it. Then hold the administration accountable for getting the job done, no more excuses.

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, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. 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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