Why would we want to do that?
To the Editor:
The title to this letter to the editor is the question I was most frequently asked when I made the point that I was running for one of the two available seats on the Bethel Board of Selectmen. To find the answer you need only to look at what is currently transpiring with regard to police coverage for our town.
For the past three months the issue of police coverage for the town of Bethel has been at the forefront of the budget process. The entire situation has me at a complete loss. I just don’t know what the town manager and Select Board are trying to accomplish.
We have gone from holding numerous Town/Selectmen’s meetings culminating with a special Town Meeting that resulted in a referendum that authorized the Select Board to enter into a contractual agreement with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement coverage at an annual savings to the taxpayers of $5,657.
This vote in and of itself raised more questions than it answered with complaints of inadequate warrants available and confusing directions as to the ballot process. To complicate the matter this vote also failed to address how the town of Bethel would pay Oxford County for this coverage, nor what the future of the Bethel PD would be, since it failed to say anything about eliminating our Police Department.
We then had a citizen’s initiated petition circulated demanding a re-vote on the issue. This petition was ultimately deemed non-binding by the town attorney and not acted upon by the Select Board. The Select Board then decided, after much apparent conversation with the town attorney, that it would be best to address the police coverage matter at a later date, say at annual Town Meeting, when most of our very important town issues are discussed and ultimately decided.
Now, fast forward to present. In less then three short months the budget for the Bethel Police Department has increased from $308,657 to a current level of $453,794.
As I said, I am at a loss as to what the ultimate goal is as it pertains to police coverage. I must confess that I am somewhat biased, having spent 15 years as a Bethel police officer, the last five as police chief.
I have maintained that “we get what we pay for” and that the wages and benefits for the officers is an issue that needs to be addressed so that we as a town can be competitive with other departments, however, we do not need to throw nearly a half a million dollars at the problem with no clear plan. The current budget calls for six full-time officers. Who decided that staffing and how is a six officers department justified? What is the thought process behind six officers? What is the proposed schedule?
It seems that the person or persons responsible for proposing the needs for law enforcement-coverage seem to have no idea what those needs really are or how the staffing and equipment should be utilized. That is why these decisions are usually best left up to a police chief, not an administrator.
It also appears that somehow during this budget process it was decided that throwing money at the issue would somehow “fix” it. It has been said the current proposal looks like a “Cadillac Department.” I disagree, for the money being proposed it looks like someone is try to force us to purchase the whole dealership.
We all know that in order to maintain a service, any service, within the town infrastructure, certain issues need to be addressed and these issues ultimately cost money, however some of these issues, especially something as important as police coverage, do not need to be addressed, and ultimately funded all at once and by rushing forward without a clear plan or path to success.
I have been told that this letter won’t win me any friends at the Town Office; I guess I will have to live with that. My agenda is not to win friends; in fact, if elected my only agenda will be to serve the town of Bethel as a selectman as I did for 15 years as a police officer, with the best interests of the citizens and the town being my only concern.
I will be voting to maintain the Bethel Police Department because I personally feel that that is what is best for our community. I ask that you as taxpayers also get out and vote, and do so from an informed and clear position. If you are unsure of any part of the issue at hand then ask questions, and demand answers. The responsibility of your elected officials is to provide you as citizens with clear and unbiased information in which to base you decisions.
Try to put all the emotions and anxiety aside and vote for what you feel is best for you as a taxpayer and a citizen of Bethel.
I respectfully ask for your vote for selectman. If elected I will be diligent in my efforts to work towards a path of success not only in this very important issue but with all the issues that the town of Bethel will no doubt face in the future.
Darren M. Tripp
Candidate for Selectman, Bethel