GREENFIELD – After a lengthy discussion Wednesday night, during which councilors expressed concern over the mayor’s approval of a Justice Department Matching Grant that would help fund the hiring of three new police officers, the city council in the end a majority vote in his favor.
“It’s a good-faith effort to help solve a problem,” said Christine Forgey, general counsel. “It is necessary for us to try and be problem solvers in accepting the cold hard facts that we need this money to put three police officers back into the police department budget.”
The acceptance of this grant comes after Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. announced last month that, effective March 1, the department will temporarily switch to a two-shift, 10-hour schedule: from 7:00 a.m. at 17:00 and from 17:00 to 15:00. The officers will work four days, with four days off.
Between 3 and 7 in the morning, the State Police will respond to calls as needed, according to the plan.
In discussing grant acceptance, some advisers were concerned about committing an undetermined amount to future budgets for the $375,000 COPS Hiring Program, a multi-year repayment grant that will allow the police department to hire two officers in early spring and a third mate in June, each for four years.
According to the Department of Justice, any additional costs for salaries or fringe benefits above the entry level are paid by the beneficiary agency. Although the federal funding ends after three years, the city is required to keep all officers under the grant for at least one more year.
Chief Financial Officer Diana Schindler told advisers that many of the costs discussed were what we “assume we’re going to have in our budget, regardless.” She pointed out that while Mayor Roxann Wedegartner had already signed and accepted the grant, a city council vote was “fiscally prudent.”
“The grant itself does not require the legislature to accept it,” Schindler clarified. “However, as this is a multi-year spending commitment, we felt it was fiscally prudent for the board to accept it. You’re basically committing to funding beyond this fiscal year.
Wednesday night’s clearance would allow the city to “move forward with the grant goals,” he said.
Still others felt that Wedegartner and Haigh “misdefined” the rationale for cutting the police budget to apply for the grant, which aims to expand community policing.
District 5 Councilman Marianne Bullock added that in the nine months since the city council voted to cut the $425,000 budget, a decision has been made to signal a “major change” in the police department following the verdict of the Hampshire County Superior Court which found the chief and the department racially discriminated against former Trooper Patrick Buchanan and that the city was liable for racial discrimination during the promotional process for sergeants – has seen no concrete changes or changes.
While District 8 Councilman Doug Mayo felt like people were “forgetting” last fall’s protests inspired by the chief’s reinstatement, At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts, who voted to accept the grant, said that he wants to vote based on what he believes the majority of the community wants.
Ultimately, a majority of councilors voted to accept the grant, largely in favor of public safety.
“We’re not a wealthy community,” At-Large counsel Phil Elmer said. “We can’t just throw away $375,000 willy-nilly. This served the purpose of plugging a hole. I am inclined to vote in favor despite all these concerns.
Journalist Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.