SOUTHINGTON — The Town Council supported a new ordinance imposing fines for “excessive” police calls in a 7-to-2 vote Monday night.
Supporters said the measure is intended to reduce the burden of property owners and businesses that frequently request emergency services. The ordinance was prompted by resident complaints about police calls to a group home for teen girls on Birchcrest Drive.
Town Council Chairman Chris Palmieri, a Democrat who voted in favor of the ordinance, said he feels it applies fairly across town.
“We are not targeting a specific area,” he said Monday.
Victoria Triano, a Republican councilor and minority leader who also voted in favor of the law, said frequent calls at one location strip police protection from other areas of town.
“This ordinance puts the responsibility back on the business owner where it belongs,” she said.
The ordinance would fine property owners for each call beyond 25 per year. The law passed Monday includes a host of exemptions including medical, domestic violence, crimes in progress, mandatory reporting and other calls that would not contribute towards the 25 calls per year.
During public comment at the meeting, opponents said the measure wouldn’t be effective and was written with the transition home for teen girls run by The Bridge Family Center in mind.
Rev. Sharon Holt, of the First Baptist Church, called the ordinance a “punitive measure designed to target (the group home) Winifred house.”
Erica Byrne, a resident, said the ordinance was a “lawsuit waiting to happen” based on federal discrimination laws.
Supporters of the law said it was written impartially and wouldn’t run afoul of housing statutes. In committee meetings on the ordinance, Town Attorney Carolyn Futtner said the frequent talk of the group home in relation to the law was a concern.
Democratic councilors Kelly Morrissey and John Barry voted against the ordinance Monday. Morrissey said she didn’t want anything that might discourage people from calling police. Barry thought the law needed more vetting, particularly from the Board of Police Commissioners.
Top locations for police calls in town include the Motel 6 on Queen Street, the Travel Center of Southington on Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike, the group home, the Walmart shopping plaza on Queen Street and the restaurant and bar 75 Center on Center Street.
The Bridge Family Center on Birchcrest is a state Department of Children and Families subcontractor and leases the house in Southington. Margaret Hann, director of the center, said while the ordinance was under consideration that she doubted her landlord would pay the fines, saying he has an "army of lawyers." KWK Birchcrest LLC owns the property and state records list Robert Koff of Simsbury as a company member.
Republican councilor William Dziedzic was frustrated by the comment.
“What do you want legislators to do? Say, ‘Oh, we can’t do that, he has an army of lawyers,’” he said. “I’m very, very disappointed in that statement.”