Police plead case to budget panel

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FARMINGTON – Budget Committee members heard about deficiencies in the police department budget and its building Wednesday at their first meeting of the new year.

Police Chief Richard Caton explained that a page in his budget containing 17 items listing problems with the building was meant as a conversation-starter, not an itinerary.

“I want to put it on the table to get people thinking,” he said. “These are issues to attend to down the road.”

Many of problems with the building were uncovered in a survey done in 1999-2000, Caton said.

The most pressing problems relate to space. There isn’t enough of it in the building for privacy, Caton said. When people come into the station, they start out in front of the dispatch window, which is in the Town Office. They often have to disclose personal information – and tell the dispatcher about the reason for their visit – within earshot of people working in or visiting the Town Office.

Caton said after the meeting that there also isn’t space for private interviews or discussions. There’s no space for an interview room with recording equipment, so sometimes Farmington officers and their interviewees head down to Wilton and use that department’s facilities. That can be time-consuming, Caton said.

There is also little storage space, meager office space, no lunch room or kitchen facilities, locker rooms, or other places where officers can store gear, no evidence rooms with the correct ventilation or climate control, sparse garage space, and no room to expand, according to the list.

In a discussion with the committee about an $18,000 addition to his overtime budget in the nearly $960,000 2007 request, Caton said that having the money would allow the department to provide the town with services it needs.

The $18,000 was approved for fiscal year 2006, but was later cut due to budget constraints, Caton said. As a result, when officers are on vacation or out of the office, or when there are especially heavy days, things like traffic patrol and foot patrol fall by the wayside as officers stop the routine work to deal with complaints.

During a recent spate of robberies and thefts, Caton said, there were times when people involved in minor accidents had to wait hours before an officer could respond.

Committee members questioned Caton about that issue, asking if another full-time officer would help. That wouldn’t fix the problem, Caton said.

Also at the budget meeting, the committee heard reports from the town assessor, treasurer, code enforcement officer, and fire rescue, among others. So far, Town Manager Richard Davis said, the budget increase is around 5.63 percent, which is below the approximately 5.8 percent limit put in place by the tax cap.

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