At the end of July, after Meriden voters rejected at referendum the City Council’s budget and its nearly 5 percent tax increase, the move was seen as an encouraging sign by Chris Powell, the former managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, whose column appears on these pages. Taking a state-wide view of the development, Powell called it “a hopeful sign” that a Democratic city could reject taxes.
Yours truly also saw it as a hopeful sign, hopeful that residents could consider it possible to take matters into their own hands and reject the seemingly routine practice of increasing taxes. But there was a warning: “The future might not be so exciting,” is how I put it. “The council will have to start taking a hard look at spending.”
Voters sent the council back to the drawing board to wrestle with the devil and the details – the details being what will be cut and the impact – and in the past week we’ve seen how alarming those details can be.
“This is complete devastation to our neighborhoods.”
That was Holly Wills, president of the Meriden Council of Neighborhoods, earlier this week.
“I’m really concerned that it’s going to cause a lot more crime, a lot more robberies … I’m scared. I’m scared for the quality of life for Meriden at this point.”
That, also earlier this week, was an observation by Elizabeth Day, who represents the Lewis Avenue area on the Council of Neighborhoods.
Those reactions were prompted by the decision to eliminate three school resource officers and the police department’s Neighborhood Initiative Unit.
Now you could say that it’s Police Chief Jeffry Cossette’s job to absorb the cuts to his department and make the best of it, which appears to be what he’s trying to do. “We’re not abandoning our neighborhoods by any means,” he said. “It’s just that they’re not going to be able to get the attention that they’re used to right now.”
Right, but these are popular programs. Cossette created the neighborhood initiative program in 2004. It’s a proactive way of making neighborhoods feel safer. The same can be said of school resource officers. Is that initiative now “ruined”, as Wills put it?
You have to wonder how voters would have responded if the referendum question had included specifics about what would be lost by rejecting the budget.
So Cossette, of course, has been accused of playing tricks, otherwise known as using scare tactics, an accusation the chief denies. But the blame game between the chief and the City Council has been disconcerting.
“The City Council did not remove neighborhood initiative officers, not one,” said Councilor Brian Daniels. “To be absolutely clear, we’re talking about $250,000 in a $13.5 million budget. What the chief decides his priorities are are his and his alone.”
“Councilors will make comments that it wasn’t them that cut positions, but the funding has to be there for the positions to exist,” responded Cossette. “There’s going to be a lot of finger pointing.”
Yes, and then there was Mayor Kevin Scarpati’s effort to trim costs by banking on the expectation that Cossette and Deputy Chief Tim Topulos would soon retire. That deal, now off the table, was a mistake that shows what wrestling with the devil’s details can lead to.
Soon it will be November and people will have another chance to vote, and taxes again are high on the list of issues. Now is the time to look at the details.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.