Bristol puts new police HQ on the ballot

BRISTOL — The voters of the Bristol Police Department Special Service District will be asked to consider a 6.4 percent spending increase on Town Meeting Day that will, among other things, fund moving the department’s headquarters from its current location on South Street.
The proposed budget, which would raise more than $19,000 in new revenue through taxes, would take the department’s facilities expenses from $13,000 to $30,000 for Fiscal Year 2013, which starts July 1. The increase would cover rent and utilities for a 2,300-square-foot space at BristolWorks that would be renovated to fit the needs of the Bristol Police Department, according to Town Administrator Bill Bryant and Police Chief Kevin Gibbs.
“While it’s a significant bump in the budget, it is a much smaller bump than the alternatives we were able to look at would be,” Bryant said.
The police department is currently housed in a 900-square-foot space in the back of a residential house rented from the Henderson family; the town’s lease expires at the end of this year.
“It’s just not a very efficient or effective police space — or a safe one,” Bryant said.
Gibbs and Bryant told the Independent that they had considered more than a half dozen other locations, most of them older homes or office spaces that would have to be retrofitted to fit the needs of a police station. Gibbs said the cost of those upgrades was “scary” — around $500,000 in some cases.
BristolWorks owner Kevin Harper had been flexible and accommodating during talks and would design the space to fit the needs of the department, Bryant said. The initial lease would be 10 years, and a major benefit would be that the renovation costs would be built into the lease agreement. Bryant said the space would be designed as a 10-to-20-year solution to the police department’s needs.
“We have negotiated a base rent plus the cost to build what we want,” Bryant said. The specifics of the lease would be worked out once the space is designed. The $30,000 budgeted facilities expenses would set the town up to be able to pay rent on the space starting Oct. 1 and would include the cost of utilities.
Though a 2008 independent consultant recommended a 5,500-square-foot facility for a department of Bristol’s size, Gibbs believes his department could more than make do with the BristolWorks space.
“It would allow us to transition smoothly to a space that is actually designed for our purposes,” Gibbs said.
“For us, it’s one-and-a-half times what we’re working with now,” Bryant added.
Bryant and Gibbs emphasized that the current space was always meant to be temporary and that it is less-than-ideal from a safety and efficiency standpoint. The BristolWorks space would enable the department to operate with critical features that the department has lacked for some time, such as a floor plan that guarantees that suspects and victims do not encounter or overhear one another during questioning and a sally port, a covered area from where police can securely move prisoners from a cruiser to the office.
“We think we can actually get a sally port (in BristolWorks), which is important to officer safety and security of prisoners when you’re bringing them in,” Bryant said. “It enables us to have our car out of the weather, so that we don’t have to leave a car running in an ice storm or in a snow storm, so that we don’t have to brush the car off and de-ice it before we can respond to an emergency.”
“(BristolWorks) would have everything we need and nothing we don’t,” said Gibbs. “If we have a major incident right now, and we have officers from other agencies assisting, there is almost nowhere for anyone to work over there.”
“There’s no place for their cars to even be,” Bryant added.
In addition to the budget item, a second, related item will appear on the Town Meeting Day ballot that reads: “Will the voters of the Bristol Police District authorize the use of up to $30,000 from the District’s June 30, 2012, undesignated fund balance to cover expenses related to the relocation of the Bristol Police Department to new facilities including but not limited to installation of communications and security equipment?”
Bryant expressed concern that voters who did not make it to Town Meeting on March 4 would be confused by the second item on the ballot.
The $30,000 mentioned in the second ballot item comes from a surplus in the police operating fund that the town was able to save because it was short an officer for part of the last year, and because the officer that was eventually hired declined to accept the health insurance that had been budgeted for him.
“What we’re proposing to do is use some of that to offset the cost over there to keep the amount that Kevin Harper has to borrow (for renovations and refitting the space) to a dull roar, so that we can keep the rent to within what we planned,” Bryant explained. “And the most basic stuff that we’re planning to pay for out of that would be the communications and security equipment that we mentioned.”
Public hearings on the proposed police department budget will take place at the Monday, Feb. 25, selectboard meeting following discussion of the proposed fire facility (which starts at 7 p.m. at Holley Hall), and on Monday, March 4, at 6 p.m. in Holley Hall.

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