Tuesday, September 23, 2008

East Sandwich: Second class citizens?

Our town manager, Bud Dunham, made a very important point about public safety services in East Sandwich: These residents are receiving a lesser class of service, in terms of emergency response times, compared to most of the rest of the Town of Sandwich. If you live on Main Street, you’re within a 5-minute time window for emergency response. Live on Sandy Neck Road? Hold your breath. You’re more than 10 minutes away.

This isn’t new news, of course. The East Sandwich fire station (commonly called Station 2) has never been a 24/7 station. But over the past three decades, the population of East Sandwich has risen steadily. In fact, the entire town has grown from about 10,000 people in 1980 to around 23,000 today. People who grew up in Sandwich remember a town of fewer than 5,000 and an all volunteer fire department. It wasn’t until 1973 that we had our first around-the-clock staffing at Station 1 (next to the police station).

Does anyone believe we’re better off without a crew at Station 2? Clearly not. The objections are all based on the cost of providing the additional services. Have we been remiss in leaving Station 2 unmanned for so long? No, I don’t believe we have been remiss. When the Town’s population center shifted to south of Route 6, we reacted in 1996 by establishing 24-hour service at Station 3 (Forestdale) and again reinforced our staffing with an override to pay for nine more firefighters and a deputy fire chief a few years later. Because of budget constraints, we didn’t hire the deputy chief until last year.

Discussions centering around Station 2 have popped up every year since I was first appointed to the Finance Committee in 2001 and certainly many times before that. This year, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) asked the question: What would it take to open Station 2 with 24/7 coverage? Chief Russell, Deputy Chief Corriveau and others, no doubt, spent a great deal of time gathering information in order to answer this question. They made several presentations and answered many questions about their staffing plans. They even offered two versions of the plan; an eight-person plan and a twelve-person plan.

Last week, Dana Barrette hit the nail on the head when he observed that the BOS asked the wrong question. In a town that has never had a long range plan for public safety, we were asking a very focused question about what may or may not be correct next step to deal with our underserved residents. What we really need is a multiyear plan for moving the town from the status quo to a smart, efficient and balanced approach to providing public safety. All facets of public safety. That means police, fire protection, emergency medical services, and the coordination of these services with other town departments. After all, even the stoutest ambulance can’t drive down an unplowed street after a three-foot snow.

The motion I made at our September 18th meeting was to place an article on the October special town meeting warrant to appropriate funds, in an amount to be determined by the town manager, for generating a long range plan for public safety services with the view to put articles on the May 2009 annual town meeting that will begin the implementation of a comprehensive and mapped out solution. This is a fast-track approach to putting us in a position to make intelligent decisions regarding the future of our public safety services.

Seems reasonable. We’ve debated this issue for years. To take a few more months to pull a solid plan together is responsible, in my opinion. Should we have already completed this task several years ago? Probably so. But because we didn’t, does that mean that we should skip our due diligence and take this next step right or wrong? Of course not.

But wait. Now comes the motion to do exactly that. Bypass the planning, the analysis, the road map for the next ten to twenty years. Like the Nike ad, the motion was to “Just do it.” Can you imagine going to the voters with an override proposal without a strategic plan? Besides, we’re reading this week that the state’s revenue in September has already fallen $200 million short of projections and that the governor and senate president are working to determine a course of action which may well include the return of those “9C” cuts like we experienced several years ago. And two weeks ago could you have imagined the fallout we’re experiencing relative to the investment bank and insurance company failures?

Now is not the time to go to the taxpayer till. Let’s all settle down and do the right thing here. We can pay for a thorough study of our public safety service options using a small portion of the funds that were generated by our tax title property auction last fall. In a few short months we’ll have that strategic plan for mapping out the steps we need to take and the timeline over which the town can responsibly absorb the financial costs.

Then we’ll breathe a sigh of relief knowing that no one in the Town of Sandwich is a second class citizen.

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

4 comments:

  1. Very well said...However, I do not feel like a second class citizen living in East Sandwich. Ten minutes in some other towns and cities for a response would be viewed as a miricle. Cheers, David L

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  2. While the review of placement and needs take place, station 2 should be manned, using the "trailer" option, mentioned by Chief Russell.
    By the time you have a study,find out the stations are inthe wrong place,we already know that, !!!!!!!
    Not only are the rresponse times terrible, in many sections of east sandwich,there is NO WATER,many are still on WELLS,water has to be trucked in; I do feel like a second class citezen, especially paying over $7500.00 in property taxes.

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  3. Mr Hunt with out a doubt a more prudent approach to the safety problems we all face as a town is by having a third party provide a report that will in todays terms better place all of the equation in one box.

    No one can deny the needs, but every one must understand that it also takes dollars to operate the whole town. Given the present budget availability to do one hundres percent of operating our town, we need to be very precise in how we spend what we have available, without taking away from the town services we now have.

    Carl J

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  4. I enjoyed your logically approach to this problem. Your response can apply to many of the towns dealing with this same issue.

    ReplyDelete

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