Back To Square One On Public Safety

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By: Mary Stanley
Published: 08/23/13

Sandwich selectmen went back to the drawing board last night to come up with a plan for improving public safety in town, agreeing that the six-member task force charged with coming up with a plan should approach it with no preconceived notions, starting with a blank slate.

Selectman Frank Pannorfi pointed out that the task force is going to have to consider several options for the town’s public safety plan as well as many configurations for the buildings. He said it may have been a lack of options that caused voters at Town Meeting in May and at the polls to reject the $30 million proposal to build a new police and fire station in South Sandwich with one substation located on Quaker Meetinghouse Road near the high school.

“We need to present options. This board did not give voters options to consider and that could be why the vote failed,” Mr. Pannorfi said.

But before the task force could begin its work, selectmen had to make some key decisions, including whether to hire additional personnel, the maximum amount of money that should be spent for a capital exclusion and how many fire stations there should be. Board Chairman James W. Pierce said those decisions were going to guide the task force in its work to provide clarity before going forward.

“We heard loud and clear that what we presented to voters in May cost too much money. We need to give some kind of financial parameters to the task force,” Selectman Susan R. James said.

The board agreed that a capital debt exclusion for the project should not exceed $20 million.

The board members also agreed to give the task force flexibility with respect to how many fire stations to staff in town.

“We have to give the committee the flexibility to provide adequate or better than adequate coverage for the town,” Mr. Pierce said.

Mr. Pannorfi pointed out that for voters to support building a new police and fire station, they are going to want coverage in the Town Neck, village, South Sandwich and East Sandwich parts of town and that the task force is going to have to consider whether that means two, three, or four fire stations. “We need to provide medical and fire services for the entire community,” he said.

Town Manager George H. Dunham cautioned that adding a fire station would require staffing that station and that will require an operational override.

“There are certain things that are black and white,” he said. “If you open up a new station, it will require additional staffing.”

Mr. Pierce suggested that the committee come back with staffing recommendations based on the proposals and options that it comes up with for the fire stations. The board also agreed that the task force should consider outsourcing its 911 and dispatch center.

Police Chief Peter N. Wack cautioned that outsourcing that function and going to a regional 911 and dispatch center would result in a loss of service to residents in town. He said it is not at all unusual for residents to walk into the police station requesting restraining orders or seeking assistance in other matters or for people in need of medical attention to walk into the fire station.

He said if the dispatch and 911 centers are outsourced, the stations will be “dark,” meaning dispatchers will not be present in the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide these services to residents.

“This is not a problem that is unique to this town,” Mr. Pannorfi said. He suggested that the committee also consider options for addressing “dark” stations.

The task force is scheduled to go back before the board at its October 24 meeting to provide an update on its findings.

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