Last month the Village of Waterbury voted overwhelmingly in favor of a charter amendment that would effectively eliminate the village government and turn authority over to the town. The biggest change will be the elimination of the village police department, which is the only police department in town.
Waterbury Police Chief Joby Feccia has a lot on his mind these days. He’s running the village police department on a skeleton staff of two full time officers, including himself. He’s planning for the imminent closure of the department – likely by the end of the year. And he’s trying to plan out the next stage of his personal career.
"As long as we’re here, we’re going to continue to do the best job we can," he says. "It sounds like December 31 is probably our end date, but we just don’t know. I’d like to find out – I’d like to find that out as soon as possible so we can do some serious planning."
Feccia has been with the department since 1995, and he’s been chief for the past nine years. He was planning on staying until he retired. But now he’s looking for a new job, applying to graduate school, and considering entirely new career options. But still, he’s concerned about Waterbury.
"This is a wonderful community," says Feccia. "It’s growing. I hope that the town decides that they need a police department … I hope they fund it. I hope they have a good set of officers. I love Waterbury and I wish this community and its people well. I’m going to miss it."
Currently the town has no plans to set up its own police department. The rest of Waterbury, outside the village, relies on the state police for its law enforcement.
Bill Shepeluk is the municipal manager for both the town and village of Waterbury. He says, over the years, town voters have repeatedly rejected the idea of taking over the village police.
"The town has been pretty clear they don’t want the village’s police department," says Shepeluk. "They haven’t wanted their own police department because the village is already doing it and the area of the town that really needs policing is in the village, of course. So they’ve felt very good about not providing any of the funding. I think the village has the opposite sentiment."
But last month’s Village vote has forced the town to reconsider its options.
"And the village has finally just said, 'enough is enough, we’re just not going to do it anymore,'" says Shepeluk. "And now the select board is reacting to that saying, 'boy, you know, what will the future of public safety be like in the community?'"
Tropical Storm Irene was a turning point for Waterbury, and for the village police department. About a third of the village's properties were affected by the flood. The police department was forced to relocate.
With so many flood damaged properties, paying for police became more of a burden than some village taxpayers could bear.
And the village faced a double whammy. On top of the cost of rebuilding, Shepeluk says the loss of the state office complex resulted in fewer customers for local businesses.
"When you have 1,500 state employees in your downtown every day and then they’re here on Friday and they’re gone on Monday, they’re gone for five years. That wreaks havoc with the businesses," he says.
To help ease the budget, the police department cut back on officers. With less coverage, tax payers weren’t as satisfied with law enforcement services. It was a downward spiral that ended with the village essentially voting itself – and its police department – out of existence.
Now it’s up to the town to decide what level of law enforcement it wants to support. Shepeluk says the first step will be to determine the need, and then come up with a solution the taxpayers are willing to fund. And he says chances are the answer will be something short of a town police force.
"My expectation is the town won’t create its own police department, at least not right away," he says. "I think they’ll take some incremental steps – maybe contract with other agencies somehow. But we’ll see. It’s to be determined."
The Waterbury select board will be discussing the issue on Monday, July 31. Shepeluk says he expects the board will establish a citizen's committee to study the options.