By SHERIDAN CYR
The Town Council approved the excessive emergency service responses ordinance on Monday night in a split vote after a failed motion to table the discussion.
The purpose of the ordinance is to create the ability to track and identify nuisance properties which experience verified excessive responses to a specific location. According to the language of the ordinance, it would provide “motivation for the property owners to actively participate in solving problems on their property.”
The proposed ordinance will follow the fiscal year (July 1 to June 30). Town Attorney Carolyn Futtner explained that once a property owner reaches 20 calls in a fiscal year, Southington police will review the situation and try to speak with the property owner “to try to address concerns and prevent anything from getting worse.”
Once the property reaches 25 calls, a $250 fine—the maximum penalty under Connecticut general statute—will be issued through the administrative services section of the Southington Police Department. A written notification will be given to the property owner. A meeting will be set up within one week of the notification to allow for the property owner and/or responsible person to present any information or evidence to mitigate their violation.
“The ordinance puts the responsibility back on the business owner where it belongs,” said councilor Victoria Triano (R), who also sits on the ordinance committee and helped to create the ordinance. “I believe this ordinance is equal for all businesses, regardless of what kind of business sit is. The standards are clear.”
Triano further stated that police can become tied up with a “frivolous call” and cannot get to a “genuine and much more difficult” call, and that the ordinance will protect the Police Department and the public in those cases. Councilor Kelly Morrissey (D) stated it is not the Town Council’s job to determine what a frivolous call is.
“If someone thought they needed to call the police, then they should call the police,” said Morrissey. “There is no such thing as a ‘frivolous call.’”
During public communication, Jim Sinclair shared concern that the ordinance was discriminatory, as discussions about the ordinance began with concern about excessive calls to a group home, Winifred House, on Birchcrest Drive. He also said the added administrative work at the Police Department is “a huge waste of their time.”
One resident, Erica Byrne, spoke against the ordinance. She asked how an employee of a business should react to a potential dangerous situation at work, when the employee doesn’t want to be responsible for the business getting a strike against it toward a fine.
“All you [the employee] have been told about this ordinance by your manager is that it fines businesses that are the subject of too many police calls,” she said. “You just think that calling the police, unless you’re 100 percent sure that a crime is being committed, might get you fired if it takes your employer above the threshold. What choice do you make?”
She also said the ordinance could create incentive for Birchcrest Dr. residents to call the police more in hopes of convincing the Winifred House to move out of town.
Councilor Dawn Miceli (D) said the goal of the ordinance is to encourage better business management.
“It does invoke best management practices,” said Miceli. She requested adding to the motion that the council review the ordinance in a year’s time to see how it has progressed. Triano amended her motion to include that.
John Barry (D) made a motion to table the ordinance in order to vet the problem through the police commissioners. Morrissey seconded the motion, which failed, 6-3, despite support by Council chair Chris Palmieri (D).
The ensuing vote to approve the ordinance passed, 7-2. Barry and Morrissey were the only dissenting votes.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.