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Stratton and selectmen cover safety and funding at meeting

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM The Wilbraham Police Department has been working closely with the Board of Selectman on a variety of issues to ensure the town maintains its integrity. Chief Allen Stratton met with the board at their March 31 meeting to discuss several of these important issues.

The first item brought up for discussion concerned a recent traffic study at the intersection of Brainard Road and Glenn Drive. The information presented was based on data collected during 2006 and 2007 that was analyzed by Fuss & O'Neill of West Springfield, a full-service engineering consulting firm. Stratton said the firm looked at two primary issues the volume of traffic using that area as a cut-through and the speed of that traffic.

Stratton said the Fuss & O'Neill study found the volume of traffic had a low impact on the neighborhood but speeding vehicles were an issue. Eighty-five percent of the traffic in the thickly settled area was traveling at five to seven miles per hour above the 30 mph speed limit and during times of heavier traffic, many were up to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.

The study also reviewed the accident history of the area but did not find a number in excess of what the firm was expecting, Stratton added.

"They did not consider the cut-through a major issue, but they suggest more monitoring for the speed issue," Stratton told the board.

The report also suggested adding yellow advisory 30 mph signs to the area.

Board of Selectmen Chair James Thompson asked if traffic calming methods like a roundabout or an island in the center of the street, or some sort of temporary delineation like barrels, could be used to see if it would slow the traffic.

Selectman David Barry asked if the report stated what the board and the police department thought it would.

"Yes, and it did a little more," Ed Miga, Department of Public Works director, said. Fuss & O'Neill included the accident history and a comparison of similar areas in Wilbraham in their report and conducted an on-site study themselves in September 2007, he explained.

Thompson said the next step for this traffic study is for the police to meet with the neighborhood's representatives to get the information out to the residents.

The next two items the police chief and the Board of Selectmen conversed about had to do with budgeting issues the use of grants and forfeiture funds in the community and the cost of keeping a school resource officer in the Wilbraham schools.

Thompson said the use of grants and other funds has been part of ongoing discussions between Stratton and the board that began in February. Both parties are looking to use the available funds to at least partially pay for new radio equipment and a new cruiser.

Stratton said he contacted the U.S. Department of Justice and he was told drug forfeiture funds were not eligible to be used for the replacement of existing equipment.

He added that he's looking at left over community policing grants as possible sources of funding for the K-9 unit.

"We've had some of these funds for 15 years," Selectman Patrick Brady said. "Why didn't we use those to purchase a new vehicle for the K-9 unit [as opposed to converting an existing vehicle]?"

"I used the funds for things I thought were more pressing," Stratton explained.

Thompson said what the Board of Selectmen needs from Stratton now when it comes to allotting funds are all the options and not just a singular proposal.

The board wrapped up their conversation with Stratton by talking about Officer Dan Menard, the resource officer for the six public schools located in Wilbraham. The selectmen, Stratton, Superintendent Paul Gagliarducci and Minnechaug Regional High School Principal Marty O'Shea all averred that having a resource officer in the schools was a program they wanted to keep; the selectmen were questioning where the officer's salary was coming from and how much it totaled.

"The school resource officer position is a result of grants," Stratton explained. "He is dedicated to the school facilities in Wilbraham and spends the majority of his time at the high school." He added that Menard gives advice on restraining orders, domestic violence issues, etc., as part of his job.

"Having him [at the schools] makes for an efficient response for avoiding issues of a criminal nature," Stratton said.

Menard works 42 weeks a year within the schools and spends the other 10 weeks with the Wilbraham Police Department.

"What if we didn't have him?" Gagliarducci asked. "Look at what the WPD would have to do if there were issues. It would tie up members of the department. Things don't just happen on a daily basis it could be three different incidents in one day. We may have a student with drugs or with a gun or with a knife, or a student who participated in a theft." Gagliarducci and O'Shea both showed their support for keeping both the program and "Officer Dan" in the schools.

"I think Wilbraham is paying more than its fair share for the officer at the regional high school," Brady stated. Currently, the officer's salary that's not covered by grants is split approximately 75/25 between Wilbraham and Hampden, respectively.

Barry wondered what would be considered a fair amount for Hampden to contribute. "We'll never get a perfect number," he said.

Stratton said he sees it as a Wilbraham responsibility because it is a Wilbraham officer.

"No one is suggesting we get rid of the position," Thompson said. "The question is only of funding. It's not an easy 75/25 ratio."

Discussion of how the school resource officer's position will be funded will be continued at future Board of Selectmen meetings.

The next Board of Selectmen meeting is scheduled for April 7 at 7 p.m.