Safford: Let’s Build a New Scituate Police Station

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RI is one of two states with no level of county government. That’s just one reason why it’s time for Scituate to build a new police station.

Scituate is the only municipality in RI with no Legislative charter or Home Rule making it the most wildest of wests.

The current structure of the town government is older than everyone reading this article. The town council majority has absolute power…something everyone seemed to be ok with until last year, when a new regime was voted into the council majority in 2016.

Our predominantly blue state has nice little red polka dots on the outskirts of our larger cities. For as long as I can remember Scituate has been run by the local Republicans however they deemed to run it.

They kept taxes down. They kept major developments out. They even managed to keep the low income housing numbers below the state required minimums–among the lowest in the state.

Growing up in the town that was something I relished. Nothing changed. My sleepy little hometown created an amazing experience for me in my youth and I will be forever grateful to them for that.

Now that I am all grown up I can see the costs behind the curtain.

In 2002 the Scituate town council managed to secure a property that had been a bar. In the years before that, it served as an Inn, a tavern, a bed and breakfast, and was once a homestead built by the children of the historic home it neighbors.

The Chopmist Hill Inn was once a bustling pub where people gathered to drink and play softball in the 1980s. The building was even rented out for a college drinking event called ‘Around the World’ where it featured lived music and 99 kegs of beer from all around the world.

I grew up four doors down from the Chopmist Hill Inn. I watched buses of college kids pour in and leave drunk. One morning my father had to pull a passed out URI student from our bushes. It was a madhouse.

When the town council was able to obtain this property, they promised hiking trails, sports fields, and a community center would all be built on the 40+ acres parcel.

It’s now 16 years later and nothing has been done. The Inn itself was transformed into a senior center and just last year the new town council performed major upgrades on the property. The septic system and well are more than sufficient to support both the senior center and another building if one were to be built. The site, already owned by the town, offers great opportunity as previously promised by the former Republican run majority in the town council.

Why does the Scituate Republican Committee so adamantly rally against the new proposed police station project?

All About Control

The town council majority has absolute control. When the independent men took office, one of the first projects they began working on was a legislative charter to bring the town out of the stone age.

Shortly after, the Republican Committee that had just lost control of the town council majority, began scurrying to get their power back. They sought a home rule charter put together by the people.

Their retaliatory actions to all of a sudden do something they were adamantly against when they were in power themselves, became a priority. Their bitter motivations were an attempt to create a charter that would limit the power of those in office. They’re pandering to the residents telling them that this was the only way to save their town. But from Who?

With no county government to oversee or influence anything done by the town council, this power struggle has created a divide in the town.

When was the last time a Republican tried to motivate the people to create an agenda run by citizens? Pre-Roosevelt? That’s not a Republican mindset. So why now?

They Got A Lust For Power

I have sat back and watched the elected town council attempt to better a town plagued by decades of cronyism Republican rule. The new Independent Men made efforts to better this town in every way, were only to be met by lies, slander, social media childishness, and out of character misdirection. The Republicans in this town are behaving like children.

To be fair: low blows are usually followed by low blows. Both sides have been deteriorating as more time passes and the politics have gone from the boardroom to the playground. We have previous council members posting from fake Facebook profiles attempting to misdirect locals with lies and slander.

Threats being made by all sides in an attempt to protect themselves from the onslaught. Citizens are being blocked from public social media sites run by political organizations. (That’s something a Virginia district, and then supreme court judge, have recently ruled against last July). These new legal precedence will eventually find their way to our small state and these sleepy towns and legal actions are being filed. Why is this happening? The answer is simple. There’s no county government.

Let me bring you back to my current example as proof.

A Building in Shambles 

The current police department in Scituate is in shambles. The building, once an historic property, has been a commercialized building and police station for over 80 years. The entire property has been paved and additions have been added. The sleepy little Greek revival 3 bedroom home that once was houses zero historical importance. The Rhode Island Historical Preservation society has chosen to leave it off of their list of historic homes in the town. They have chosen to ignore this property since their 1980 review of all homes in Scituate that have historic importance. What’s left is a shell with an appraised value of around $100k as it stands.

The police station was found to be unfit and unsafe for the men and women protecting the town. Mold remediation amongst other required upgrades has left the building a wreck. A minimum of $40k in remediation on top of another $40k to $50k of building upgrades would be required to repair the building as per environmental studies and building inspection. Let me remind you…the building is only worth around $100k. These upgrades and inspections should have been done years ago and monitored by the county government we do not have in this state.

It only makes sense to close the old station and build a new station on the parcel of land known as the Chopmist Hill in. The water and septic are fine. There are 20+ acres of land outside of the wetlands that could easily house a new police station and then some. There is room for growth on the site. A safety complex, possible senior housing, and the site even opens up the door to the possibility of regionalization of police forces with nearby Foster which would be an economic boost for both towns.

The town council leadership has even opened up the door to donate the old police station to create veteran housing. Aid and support to the brave men and women that have protected this country with their lives. This plan also raises the towns pathetically low percentage of low income housing. This is a win-win straight across the board. But it gets better.

Having just made the last payments on a previous bond, the town would be able to borrow the funds with a new bond, and make those payments with reserve funds. There would be no tax hike.

Barrington’s recent construction of a town building raised the taxes across the board by 8 percent. How could this be looked at as negative? It can’t.

The republican town committee that recently lost their seats on the town council are bitter. And the residents are being pulled apart by their childish responses.

RI needs county government to prevent situations like this. We need Comptrollers.–an alien word to native Rhode Islanders. Our state has had pension debacles in towns like Warwick among a long laundry list of other issues at the municipality level that we never see until the people feel the wrath of the results.

I support this police station bond and I urge you to do the same. My email is always open and I implore you to take advantage of that. Ask me anything. I will investigate and find your answers as a journalist dedicated to the truth.

A Matter of Safety

One final thing that should be mentioned using this example. If this bond doesn’t pass the Scituate Police department will be forced to work out of temporary trailers and in both poor and dangerous conditions. In 2017 we saw a simple transport of a car thief escalate to a man hunt that left one man dead outside of Providence Place Mall. Had there been safety glass in the officer’s cruiser that would have never happened.

At this current moment the Scituate Police Department is using a bench in a trailer to hold suspects and prisoners to be transported to the ACI. No cell. No protection for anyone in that trailer. This current situation creates a very dangerous atmosphere in the town.

The Scituate Republican Committee is urging residents to vote no and offering no alternative solution to build a station for the police in the town. Their proposed alternative timeline is to wait for the vote in November. If they win back their town council majority they would then vote in a new solution. New building plans. New locations. Their terms. Their cronies. The timeline for these actions would leave the Scituate Police Department in costly trailers well into the year 2020 until construction of their plan could be completed.

During that time countless arrested individuals would be able to very easily make a break for it and possibly lead to another escalated escape where some innocent bystander could lose their lives.

Is voting no and risking these possibilities worth it? For 2 more years?

The town council is following blueprints for the previously erected Hopkinton police station. Their itemized list of costs to build have the Hopkinton station numbers to work off of as a reference. Based on the numbers alone they could easily borrow additional monies if other expenses if the need were to arise during construction and the residents taxes would still remain unaffected.

There is no other option. Vote YES on January 23rd and support the bond to protect your families. It won’t cost you a penny. The town council has also pledged to use the excess funds (if there are any) to purchase Chromebooks for the Scituate High School. Even more possible wins?

No Other Option 

Methodology and approach aside the Independent men have done a wonderful job dealing with the messes they have inherited. Messes created by years of unsupervised Republican majority rule. In their first political foray they have learned lessons and their recent actions are proof of their journies as politicians.

RI should be watching this closely. These are the types of votes and events that shape your town. The leeches shine lights on themselves when they try to shoot down sensible ideas and twist facts in an attempt to put off what THEY want to do later. It’s a little difficult to leech when you have no power.

Legislators downtown should be watching this closely and considering the possibility of regionalized tax assessment. Regionalized building inspection. Mandated town charter updates. Monitored spending and budgetary approval.

According to leading economists the US has recovered from the 2008 recession. RI is still 30 to 35% behind where we should be. This economic stability we are experiencing will not last. Projections give us a few more years of solid numbers. Come 2023 we will be looking at an entirely different economic atmosphere.

We need to explore our options and build a better system to handle and monitor these town issues from a higher level of government. We need county influence. If we can do that over the next 5 years we may not feel the effects of the next crash as much. And if we can do it right we may be able to avoid it almost entirely. But that my friends will take a group effort and require YOU to be part of the solution.

James Safford
James Safford is a member of the Scituate Land Trust and Conservation Commission. He has authored multiple books and sees politics though a bipartisan viewpoint. Send him email at jamessafford@yahoo.com.
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