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East Lyme selectmen request Board of Finance reconsider police building funding

East Lyme — The Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed Wednesday it again would ask the Board of Finance to consider a request to bond an additional $2.17 million to complete plans to renovate the new public safety building after finance officials previously denied that request last month.

The selectmen argued that because of recent changes in state policing laws, as well as a continual pressing need to move the police out of their current dilapidated building, among other reasons, it was appropriate to request the finance board reconsider its decision.

The Board of Finance was tasked in July to approve or deny the additional $2.17 million allocation after the vision committee planning the building renovations had determined this spring it needed that much more to complete the project, on top of the $5 million voters had agreed at referendum to allocate in early 2019.

Part of that $5 million covered the $2.77 million needed to purchase the former Honeywell building on West Main Street in spring 2019.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Camille Alberti, who voted against the additional appropriation, citing ballooning costs and concerns about town finances amid uncertain times, said by text message Thursday she will place the matter on the board's Aug. 12 meeting agenda to be discussed.

Besides Alberti, finance board members Rich Steel and Ann Cicchiello, both of whom are Democrats, voted against the request, while Democrat Peter DeRosa and Republicans Anne Santoro and John Birmingham voted in favor.

“I wholeheartedly support going forward with the plan as originally identified,” said Selectmen and Public Safety Building Vision Committee Chairman Paul Dagle. “It is the right thing for so many reasons. You can argue about the location of the building — and not everyone likes the location, not everyone in town likes the fact that we bought a building — but we did buy a building. ... We were tasked to go come up with a functional building at the most reasonable cost to bring value to the citizens of the town and to give our public safety personnel a safe and professional space to conduct their business and protect the citizens of East Lyme.”

This project “solves a 20-year-old problem and also gives us the opportunity to grow in the future,” Dagle said, before stating he would seek to address Alberti's financial concerns.

Stating they felt the public should have a final say in a referendum, which would follow Board of Finance approval, selectmen also argued Wednesday against alternative plans for building anew, stating that would not be possible at the $7.2 million price point currently estimated to complete the proposed renovations.

Police Commission Chairman Dan Price also asked board members to be cognizant that police departments will be required to be nationally accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies by the end of 2024 as part of the new police accountability bill recently passed by the Connecticut General Assembly.

Police Chief Mike Finkelstein explained by phone Thursday that, among other stipulations, accreditation will require the department to have proper policing facilities that may include a holding cell area.

Town police currently are housed in a small Main Street building, which the town rents from owner Dominion for $1 a year. It has significant flooding, mold and mildew issues and does not have its own holding cells. The town leases holding cell space from the Town of Waterford for approximately $46,000 annually.

“We are still trying to figure out what the (legal) requirements will be and it was very short notice on this,” Price said by phone Thursday. “My point at the meeting is that we need to consider this. This was passed last week and throughout this (public safety building planning process), some have argued we might have more time, but my point is we might not. ... It’s the new elephant in the room.”

Price said he believes that if the public safety building were renovated as it is designed now, it would meet accreditation standards.

Though a sally port and holding cells are included in the proposed public safety building renovation plans, they can be removed to cut more than $800,000 from total project costs. Price and Selectman Kevin Seery argued removing those items would not be wise, considering the new legislation.

Finkelstein said by phone Thursday that being accredited through CALEA could take approximately four to five years.

Selectwoman Rose Ann Hardy, citing information supplied by Finance Director Anna Johnson, reminded board members that taxpayers with a home assessed at $250,000 would pay an additional $4.10 a month to fund the public safety building, while someone with a home assessed at $450,000 would pay an additional $7.38.

“That’s two cups of Starbucks coffee up a month that you have to give up," Hardy said. "That’s what we are quibbling over."

m.biekert@theday.com

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