Limited Civil Service list approved as Whitman seeks female police officer
WHITMAN — Selectmen on Tuesday, Nov. 10 approved a request by Police Chief Scott Benton to call for a selective Civil Service appointment list of female candidates to fill a pending retirement vacancy.
The department needs to hire another female officer to comply with federal as well as Massachusetts standards for department accreditation, which recommend that 14 percent of staff be female. Whitman is now at 3.8 percent. Mass. General Laws also require departments to make the effort to hire female police officers to serve in units dealing with rape reporting, counseling and prosecution as well as — whenever possible — have a female officer interview a female rape victim.
“As a service to the citizens and for the efficiency of the Police Department, it’s my job to tell you when I see a problem, and this is a problem,” Benton said. “This is an opportunity to address it.”
Civil Service provides for a department to call for a selective list in such circumstances, according to Benton, so long as officials can articulate why it is needed.
“In looking at the operations of the Police Department and some of the things I deal with, they are prohibitive of us running as efficiently as we could,” Benton said. “Currently we have one full-time female officer … who works a day shift and has some administrative duties as well.”
Statistics regarding gender of both those arrested for crimes, or who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse, also require an additional female officer, according to the chief.
In 2012, 97 of the 312 full custody arrests, or 31 percent, were females. Another 60 victims of 92 reported domestic assaults, and all three victims of sexual assault reported to police were females. In 2013, 94 of the 313 full custody arrests, or 30 percent, were females. Another 40 victims of 57 reported domestic assaults, and five of the six victims of sexual assault reported to police were females.
“In recent years, we’ve even run into a problem with matron coverage,” Benton said. “We call in the specials when we can, however I can’t force them to come in and if they can’t come in obviously that becomes an issue.”
Selectmen agreed that Benton had made his case.
“I think a female officer — somebody that’s trained to deal with this type of victim, these types of cases — you’re right on the money,” Selectman Dan Salvucci said. “You’re absolutely right that you should be doing this.”
In other business, selectmen agreed with the Board of Assessor’s recommendation for a tax factor of 1 for both residential and commercial properties, and heard an update on progress toward a new trash-hauling contract from DPW Superintendent Bruce Martin.
Assessor Kathy Keefe said the total valuation of property in town is $1,423,288,613 and has already been certified by the Department of Revenue. The excess levy capacity this year is $1,460,512.
“That’s unusual,” Keefe said of the excess levy figure. “The reason for that was the new growth that did get approved this year was for a valuation of $1,328,292. That was and increase of 353 percent, almost all of which was attributable to New England Power’s improvement in infrastructure.”
She also reported the average single-family home is valued at $270,939 and the increase on tax bills, with the rate of $15.59 is $122.
“We’re very close to staying level in our assessments based on what we’ve spent and what we’ve seen in growth other than the unusual growth we’re talking about with National Grid,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said. “The tax rate is actually going down two cents per $1,000.”
He added that it is possible, and had happened with Verizon in the past, that National Grid — who provided their valuation numbers — could come back and seek an abatement, arguing they had overestimated.
“If we moved ahead in planning this money, it could be disastrous for us,” Lynam said. “I think we should wait it out and see where it goes.”
Salvucci supported the tax factor of 1 for both residential and commercial properties as a way of attracting much-needed business to town.
“It’s a way to say we’re business-friendly,” he said.
Martin reviewed changes residents will see when a new contract for trash hauling is finalized. The board has already approved a return to the $250 per year fee structure.
“We’re still negotiating with two haulers,” Martin said. “The current hauler is doing a good job, we are negotiating with them and another hauler right now.”
The hope is that a contract will be finalized this month with a contract signed Dec. 1.
“Either one is going to mean automated delivery, which will change our trash collection to a two-barrel system,” he said.
Each household would be provided two 64-gallon tubs, both equipped with lift-bars, which current barrels do not have. One trash barrel and one recycle barrel are included. The trucks are fitted out with a mechanical device that lifts barrels to empty them into the truck. Barrels are outfitted with computer chips and a serial number assigned to the property. When you move, the barrels stay behind.
“There is a cost associated with that,” Lynam has said. “It’s in the $320,000 to $350,000 range for the barrels.”
The first two barrels are paid for by the town, replacing lost or damaged barrels is on the resident.
Large item disposal, now permitted once a week, will likely change to once a month with a $10 fee, with how that will be collected still to be determined.