To The Daily Sun,
At the May 5 Bristol Selectboard meeting, Police Chief Lewis gave a presentation to request approval to establish a K-9 unit for the Bristol Police Department. He indicated that this program would be at "no cost to the taxpayers" of the Town of Bristol and would instead be entirely funded by drug seizure money and donations. His presentation was about 10 minutes and, I thought, quite generalized.
In his presentation there were no statistics or specific information showing a need for this unit other than a general comment about the drug problems in our state. There were questions from the board to the chief. During this question-and-answer period, it was revealed that any resulting overtime costs would not be covered by the donations and drug seizure funds, but instead would have to come from the budget and therefore taxpayers. I found this at odds with his original statements in his presentation. As they say, the devil is in the details.
Once the board's Q & A session closed, I was not surprised, but was disappointed to note that one member of the board was ready to vote on this matter. I had more questions as a voter and taxpayer, but as is customary with Selectboard meetings, there would be no opportunity for my questions or comments until the "Public Comment" section of the agenda which fell long after Chief Lewis was gone, so I held off on asking these:
1. How binding is the proposed four-year memorandum of understanding with the K-9 officer?
2. Could we get a better clarification as to the town-funded overtime expected as a result of establishing this unit?
3. Because this includes purchase of a special K-9 vehicle, will the town have to fund maintenance and fuel for this vehicle? Will getting this K-9 vehicle mean that we would not need to purchase a new cruiser in 2017?
4. Because this requires the officer to have specific training and certifications, how will this be funded initially and with regard to ongoing requirements?
5. Does this require promotion and increase in wages for the officer and how will this be funded?
6. When mentioning that nearest local K-9 units in Belmont and Franklin available for Bristol, why was Plymouth omitted?
7. When referring to use of State of NH K-9 units for police purposes, why does the chief feel this is no longer workable?
8. Where the officer will be on call for this unit 24/7, how is he compensated for housing the animal as well as on-call time?
9. Comparing the time, wages, equipment, and other ancillary costs of a K-9 unit vs. contracting use of other community units, is it cost-effective to start this unit in Bristol?
At an earlier Selectboard meeting this year, one member of the board had no problem putting off implementing a wage study until Town Meeting, yet that same member was ready to vote to add this canine unit to the Police Department without voter approval. I commend Selectmen J.P. Morrison and Paul Manganiello for their depth of questioning with regard to this proposed addition to our Police Department.
When the Selectboard finished, they agreed to seeking more public input before making a decision at a future meeting. Though the proposal as presented by Chief Lewis promises no taxpayer funds will be used to start up this canine unit, in the longer term it will cost the taxpayers. I am all for public input on decisions that impact the budget and taxes, and would prefer that the Select Board hold off on a decision on the canine unit until our next Town Meeting. I think this is a more prudent way to get Bristol voters to participate in the decision rather than the current popularity contest being waged on the Bristol Police Department Facebook page where anyone can "like" a post, whether a town resident and voter or not.
So whether you are for a K-9 unit or not, please contact the Bristol Selecboard and ask your questions and voice your opinion! Also, for those who would prefer this to be a warrant article for next Town Meeting, a petition is circulating to encourage the Selectboard do this.
Feel free to contact me at 744- 6489 if you would like to sign this petition.