In its first in-person meeting in three months, the Millville Town Council opted overwhelmingly this week against hiring a consultant to help the Town examine options for its law-enforcement needs.
The council voted 4-1, with Mayor Steve Maneri the dissenting vote, to shelve a resolution that would have allowed the Town to hire Leonard Matarese of the Center for Public Safety Management, for $14,800, to conduct a review of law-enforcement options.
Matarese is the director of research and project development for the Washington, D.C- based non-profit organization, under the International City/County Management Association. Town Manager Deborah Botchie said the organization comes “highly recommended by surrounding town which have used its services.”
She said that if the consultant was hired, a member of the CPSM team, Paul O’Connor, would visit Millville “for a couple of days,” and when his analysis was done, he would submit his recommendations to the Town.
Millville currently utilizes the Delaware State Police, at a cost of $180,000 per year, for 40 hours of police coverage per week.
The first meeting held in the town hall in three months was at capacity, which was 16 people under social-distancing requirements. Masks were required to enter the building.
First to speak in opposition to the proposal was Vice Mayor Ronald Belinko, who said, “There isn’t any question that public safety is of paramount importance to all of the residents”; however, he said he feels the current arrangement with the state police meets the Town’s law-enforcement needs.
“If you take a look at our crime report in Millville, we average about three crimes a month, consisting mostly of burglaries, break-ins, a couple disorderly-conducts up in the Town Center. I think the [state] police have a great relationship with Millville,” Belinko said, adding that the public will have an opportunity on Aug. 3 to hear a state police presentation on crime prevention.
He said that the Town is awaiting results of the latest Census to get an accurate picture of growth in the town, and that he doesn’t feel a study would be worth the money at this time.
Council Secretary Barbara Ryer agreed, saying, “The Delaware State Police are doing a stellar job. They make their presence known; they’re riding around all the neighborhoods.”
Ryer characterized crimes in Millville as “penny ante crimes, nothing major.”
Both Ryer and Belinko pointed out that the Town has the option of increasing the hours of coverage provided by the state police if crime seems to be increasing.
Ryer noted that the Town’s latest comprehensive plan, which is its blueprint for future growth, recommends that the Town look into starting a police department. “But that’s a 10-year plan,” she said. The Town approved its latest comprehensive plan update last year.
“We’re not growing enough yet. When the 2020 Census comes in, that could change a lot of things that will happen in our town,” Ryer said, adding that she feels the Town should revisit the issue “maybe seven or eight years down the road.”
Council Member Peter Michel said, “Right now, I think we could use that $14,800 somewhere else.”
Sharon Brienza, who noted that she worked in local government in New Jersey before moving to Millville, said, “I know what the cost of a police department is, and if anybody wants to see their taxes go up, that’s the first way to do it.
“You’re talking $1 million-plus, and that’s just to start,” Brienza said.
Maneri said he supports doing the study, because “It’s not going to get any cheaper. Down the road, you’re going to be paying $20-something thousand” for a police study, he said.
“We should do our due diligence and really look at public safety for the people,” Maneri said before casting the sole vote in favor of authorizing the study.
Resident Georgia Murtaugh said that, at her former home in New York, local taxes tripled when a police department was started.
“Once you open that can of worms, you can’t close it again,” she said, adding that she is not against law enforcement per se, but doesn’t feel Millville needs its own police force.
Another resident, Maggie King, who said she has lived in Millville for 20 years, noted the town’s population was 292 at that time and has increased exponentially in the past two decades.
“Maybe we don’t need a police department right now,” King said, adding that could change if Millville’s growth rate continues.
Belinko added that he believes that if the state police felt Millville needed more police protection than it currently receives, “they would certainly let us know.”
Resident Carl Beers, who told the council he is a retired Baltimore City police officer, spoke directly to Maneri when he said, “The data they collect now is going to be invalid in so many years,” and that if the Town proceeds with the study now but decides to wait to pursue starting its own police department, the information would have to be gathered again at that time.
Beers also said, “As an insider, I can tell you that police don’t protect you against crime. In little old Millville, we don’t need it,” he said.
In other business, the council voted to hire a new code enforcement and building administrator. The council also recognized Robin Caporaletti, who is retiring from that position as of June 30.
The next Millville Town Council meeting will be July 14 at 7 p.m.