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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Substation’s future still cloudy

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW
HAVEN — The city and a local landlord have struck a deal that would keep open the police substation on Whalley Avenue, provided the community can come up with as much as $11,000 to defray the cost.
The compromise saw both sides give ground, and was lauded by some as a breakthrough achieved in the spirit of cooperation.
The landlord, a nonprofit controlled by a local rabbi, slashed rent by about $5,000 a year. The city agreed to come up with $5,000 on its own, through a partial funding budget amendment introduced Monday
T he rest — another $7,000 to cover rent and $4,000 for utilities — would have to be raised by the community members who demanded the substation stay open, most of whom were at the community management team meeting held Tuesday at the endangered substation.
City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts started it off by committing to throw in $100 of his own, but resident Francine Caplan shot back that the onus shouldn’t be on the community to come up with the money to keep open an important neighborhood asset.
“Our taxes are going up this year, and we’re supposed to help pay for a substation that is so active, and we need that (police) presence here? I say no,” she said, noting that projects backed by the mayor and other people always seem to get funding.
“I’m sure that the city can find the money to do this,” she said.
The Whalley/Edgewood/Beaver Hills management team had been lobbying to save the substation for two weeks after the mayor announced, during a budget press conference, that three substations would be closed and moved to new locations as part of a series of cost-saving cuts and layoffs designed to close a $14 million budget shortfall.
The Whalley Avenue substation is the only one in rented space and most likely was going to move to James Hillhouse High School, city officials said.
The city could come up with the money, Smuts responded, if the administration made cuts elsewhere, like the elimination of a bicycle cop, for instance, a suggestion sure to strike a nerve since the community pushed last summer for an increased police presence and, in particular, more foot and bike patrols.
Last summer, Rabbi Eli Greer launched an armed citizens patrol, claiming the department abandoned community policing, in an effort to pressure City Hall into providing more resources. Ironically, a nonprofit controlled by his family owns the building that houses the substation. They agreed to cut the rent from $1,400 to about $1,000 a month.
Smuts suggested the community approach local businesses for donations.
There are two banks on opposite corners from the substation. If those and other businesses see the substation as such an asset, he said, they should come up with money.
By the end of the meeting, after donations from a Hobart Street Block Watch and commitments from state Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, and state Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, for money from their political action committees, $2,200 had been raised but even then not everyone was on the same page.
“Rob, I think there’s a little confusion,” said Alderwoman Elizabeth McCormack, who was among three aldermen to submit a budget amendment restoring partial funding. “Under the amendment that the three of us did, you’re not looking for the management team to come up with $11,000, correct?”
That didn’t jibe, she said, with her recollection of their earlier conversation. True, Smuts said the city hopes the community can raise the $11,000, but if enough was raised to cover the rent, there could be some wiggle room on the utility costs.The amendment also called for slight increases in funding to keep the other two substations open.

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