GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 19, 2013

Essex takes new look at police, fire needs

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — Town officials are forming a new committee to study an old problem; they’re now accepting applications for a new Public Safety Study Committee.

The new committee will review the spatial, budgetary and organizational needs of the town’s police and fire departments, while also examining the possibility of sharing services between departments and gauging public opinion.

The committee has been designed by selectmen to consist of five residents in addition to one member of the Finance Committee and one member from the town’s Building Committee, and the panel is being asked to issue a final report and recommendation to the Board of Selectmen for housing the Fire and Police Departments that serve the town over the next 30 years.

Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said the Board of Selectmen formed some questions willing participants can be expected to answer — such as the reason someone wants to join the committee, if they have any friends of family members who work at a police department or fire department, and their personal feelings about how public safety services are delivered.

Zubricki said selectmen want some input from people who have ties to the public safety field.

“It’s an important perspective, but not the only perspective,” he said.

The final report is to outline the process for setting up future building space desired, the budgetary constraints and the future organization of the police and fire departments.

This is not the first time the Board of Selectmen are addressing issues at the town’s Police and Fire departments. Initially, the board planned to ask voters at this year’s annual town meeting for about $700,000 for a design study to build a new public safety building, which would function as a joint home for the Police and Fire departments, but officials ultimately decided to withdraw the request.

The new committee is being formed at a time where legal questions and expenses are still swirling around Conomo Point, the regional school district is weighing its options for elementary school improvements and officials are preparing to improve Town Hall.

Police Chief Peter Silva acknowledged the town’s tight budget, but said a new police or fire station is still a necessity.

“I’m not talking about the Taj Mahal here,” he said.

Silva said a new station would have to be clean, usable, and with more working space.

The town’s Building Committee has also acknowledged the space issues as well as the building’s condition before, from recent roof repairs to isolating asbestos.

While other issues may tie up taxpayer money, Silva said the police and fire department needs are still present.

“They are going to come some resolution, but it doesn’t mean people’s lives stop,” he said. “We keep functioning.”

While different committees and studies have make recommendations to try and tackle the town’s public safety needs, Silva said this time around should be different.

“We are making much greater strides than we have historically,” he said.

Anyone wishing to apply to the new committee should send a letter of interest to Town Hall, or email Zubricki at bzubricki@essexma.org.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com