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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    Voters reject independent Montville police department

    Residents go to the polls to vote on the independent police department referendum for the town of Montville Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at Fair Oaks School. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Montville — The town will stay in the resident state trooper program after voters at the Fair Oaks Community Center rejected the proposal for an independent police department Tuesday.  

    A total of 1,531 residents voted to overturn an ordinance the Town Council passed in January that would have created an independent department and hired a police chief to replace the string of state troopers that have overseen the Montville police for decades.

    A total of 949 people voted in favor of keeping the ordinance, but the "no" campaign still fell by 582 votes.

    The turnout represented about 29 percent of the town’s approximately 8,500 registered voters.

    The day was a victory for residents and town officials who said the independent department would add too much to tax bills in a town that has already lost several high-paying properties in recent years.

    It was the second time Montville voters have rejected the plan — a previous referendum overturned an independent department proposal in 2002.

    Howard R. "Russ" Beetham Jr., the former Montville mayor who led that effort to overturn an independent department that year, stood outside the Fair Oaks building for most of Tuesday morning with a big yellow "yes" sign.

    He said the voters with low incomes can't afford any increase in their taxes that the move to an independent department might cause.

    "Taxes are a big amount of their income," he said.

    Beetham predicted the outcome, confident as early as 11 a.m. Tuesday that the independent department ordinance will be overturned.

    "I think that it's going to be a good day," he said.

    Signs lined the roads leading to the Fair Oaks building, and a steady stream of voters trickled into the former elementary school after polls opened at 6 a.m.

    All registered voters and anyone who owns property in town assessed at a value of at least $1,000 were eligible to vote.

    The Town Council scheduled Tuesday’s referendum in February, after residents collected more than 400 signatures on a petition calling for a second opinion on their decision.

    Many who voted against the independent department proposal said they were worried that leaving the resident state trooper program would drive up their property taxes.

    "We already have a good constable service; it's not like we need a bigger department," said Nick Damato.

    Town Council Chairman Joseph W. Jaskiewicz, who supported the independent department, said that cost was the major factor in people’s minds.

    He said establishing an independent department would have been a step forward for the town.

    “We gotta progress, we gotta move,” he said.

    But, he said, he accepted the result.

    “If people said ‘we’re fine with the status quo,’ fine,” he said. “That’s what it’ll be.”

    In November, an independent committee of town residents and former law enforcement officials endorsed switching to an independent police department, estimating switching to an independent police department, estimating it would add about $300,000 to the police department's budget by 2018, but would bring stability and more grant opportunities to the town.

    The committee’s members, and other proponents of an independent department, argued that the town’s 17,000 square-foot public safety building was built to one day house an independent department.

    Voters approved a $6.5 million bond request that paid for the building in 2010.

    For Montville resident Mike Sullivan, that wasn’t a good enough reason.

    “I don’t believe that just because we built the Taj Mahal police headquarters that we need to fill it with a whole bunch of people and put our costs way up,” he said.

    Lisa Velasquez was the last person to vote Tuesday, right at 8 p.m.

    She voted ‘yes’ to overturn the ordinance, she said.

    “I feel like it’ll cost the town more money,” she said. “And that’s not something we have.”

    Editor's note: this version corrects the number of "no" votes.

    m.shanahan@theday.com

    Greeter Matt Lariviere, center, directs residents go to the appropriate precinct table to check-in to vote on the independent police department referendum for the town of Montville Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at Fair Oaks School. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Residents go to the polls to vote on the independent police department referendum for the town of Montville Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at Fair Oaks School. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
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