Adams Residents Upset Over Police Budget Cuts
Town Hall was packed Wednesday night as residents turned out over budget cuts in the Police Department. Selectmen Chairman Joseph Solomon said he'd gotten more phone calls in past week than he'd received in three years.
"If you cut the force you're going to have problems, there are a lot of old people in this town," said Ray Porter, lauding the prompt response by police after calling 911 when he fell ill.
The Police Department has been ordered to slash its budget by $175,000; a total of $700,000 in cuts has been made in the town's fiscal 2010 budget affecting all departments.
Police say the dispatchers' jobs have been targeted for elimination and a letter making the rounds claims officers will have to be pulled from the streets — meaning no one to cross pedestrians during church or run the Police Association League teams at the school — to man the dispatch phones.
Selectmen, however, insist that cuts aren't targeting any particular positions and no decisions will be made until after town meeting approves the budget and there are talks with the appropriate bargaining units.
"We can't say this job is gone, that job is gone," said Chairman Joseph Solomon, who cautioned that both sides should be careful in discussing issues better left to bargaining sessions. "We have to work together ... it's frustrating that it would come out in a letter without coming to us first."
Dispatchers and officers disputed that, with Adams Police Association President Keith McLear saying the decision appeared to have already been made, according to paperwork he'd seen. "I'm not a fool," he told Solomon.
Adams Police Association President Keith McLear expresses himself.
"Others here want to talk," he said. "Ultimately, they're the people who are going to pay those bills."
The heads of the town's two emergency service agencies, Fire Chief Stephen Brown and Adams Ambulance Service Manager Daniel LaPlante both argued in favor of keeping the dispatchers.
"They do a tremendous job; they know the town, they know the agencies," said Brown, who's led the Fire Department for the past 13 years. "I can get on the radio, tell the dispatcher what I need and they can find it."
Shifting to Berkshire County Dispatch would require a new commmunications system for the department because the current radios can't reach Pittsfield, he said. "I don't believe cutting emergency services is in best interest of the town."
LaPlante said the initial minutes of a medical emergency are the most significant and often police are first on the scene. "Don't you want the best outcome by having the police there when you need them?" he asked to applause.
A number of people questioned if the Selectmen had been diligent in looking for cuts elsewhere, such as the Fire Wardens. Porter suggested instead of paying $85,000 for a new town manager, the town elect a full-time selectman at a much lower cost.
"It would be a lot simpler and a lot cheaper," he said. "And if you didn't like him, you could boot him out at town election."
Solomon replied that the Selectmen had looked at every department, even arguing over $2,000 line items, and the town manager form of government had been selected by voters. Not cutting the police budget would add about 45 cents per $1,000 valuation on the tax rate.
Sommer said there may be options to cutting jobs — wage reductions, voluntary furloughs, fewer hours — but those would have to be discussed with unions after town meeting decides whether to approve the reduced budget.
Solomon reminded the audience that the town already has the highest tax rate and the oldest population in the county and that with the state looking at a deficit reaching into the billions, more painful decisions may yet have to be made.
"It's come to the point where we have to make cuts," he said. "We don't have anything left to cut ... we've gone to the nitty gritty, to paper and pens."
■ In other business, Superintendent of Schools Alfred W. Skrocki presented the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District budget to the Selectmen. He noted that the numbers on Chapter 70 state education aid, currently level-funded, are not final but the school district had to pass the budget by March 23.
■ Agricultural Commission Chairman Peter Levesque said a farmers' market would not be possible this year because of insurance issues. He said the commission would work with North Adams and Lanesborough so Adams growers could sell their wares in those towns.