The police and fire chiefs in Wayland are looking ahead to a fully open Wayland Town Center and other possible developments, and they're telling the town that they will need some help.
Both chiefs have requested funding in their Fiscal Year 2014 budgets for an additional person on their respective rosters.
For Police Chief Bob Irving, it's a request that really just fills out a roster that took a cut in 2004 in order to allow an early retirement option for an officer with some medical concerns.
At the time, Irving said, the department expected to regain that position after three years, but those three years have long since come and gone.
"I am proposing a level-funded budget except that I’m replacing a position that we had," Irving explained to Patch. "We’ve had tough economic times in the past and we were not able to get that position back when we thought. Now that Town Center is opening, it’s all that more important to get back to that strength."
Irving explained that he expects a few of the Town Center businesses to require liquor licenses, which it is up to the police department to monitor. In additon, more businesses could mean additional traffic and "property-type crimes," such as shoplifting.
The Wayland PD is currently staffed with 22 officers, 20 of which are patrol officers, plus two adminstrative positions: the chief and Lt. Pat Swanick. It's low by national standards and also puts Wayland below the staffing levels of several local peer towns, according to a report Irving compiled.
It's also a strain to the department's overtime budget, especially if an officer goes on leave, is out for training, retires or otherwise leaves the department. Because Wayland PD operates through the Civil Service System, it generally takes a year or more to replace an officer, Irving said. He added that even if he receives funding in FY14 for a new officer, it will likely be the end of FY14 before that officer is out on the streets and taking some of the strain off the department.
"Our number one duty is to respond to emergencies and provide community assistance," Irving said. "What I’m looking for is to eventually get to the point where I have more patrol coverage in the days and evenings. We will provide whatever services that we are budgeted to provide for.
"We’re so far behind where we should be in the number of officers."
In a 2006 report analyzing the "fiscal and economic impact" of two possible town center developments under consideration at the time, the Community Opportunities Group, Inc., recommended an additional 2.8 police officers and 3.4 firefighters for Wayland should the development continue.
"Our conversations with Wayland’s public safety officials, our knowledge of public safety staffing levels in other communities, state and county data reported by the Census of Governments, and industry publications persuade us that Wayland’s police and fire departments are already understaffed," the report found in 2006. At that time, Wayland was operating with its current number of firefighters and police officers.
In fact, the Wayland Fire Department roster has remained unchanged for 42 years, according to Fire Chief Vinnie Smith. In his FY14 budget, Smith has requested funds for additional personnel, a firefighter/paramedic that would bring his total roster to 26.
“I don’t believe there would be any other department in town that would be at the same level for 42 years," Smith said, adding that calls have increased by several hundred percent over those four decades. In 1970, Smith said, Wayland fire responded to 538 calls; in 2010, that number had increased to 3,638.
"We have the huge workload with the same number of firefighters that we had that long ago," Smith said. "We also have Wayland Town Center and other developments coming on-line that I recognize now are really going to strain our resources in the future."
Like Irving, Smith compiled a report of several peer fire departments including Sudbury, Weston, Concord and Acton among others and found that Wayland employs fewer full-time firefighters than any of the other towns.
"I’m one of those people who understands that we can’t afford to staff the department for a 747 crash, but we have to come to some kind of adequate way to get what we need," Smith said. "I consider it my duty as a fire chief to recommend the funding. It's up to the town whether they want to do that."
According to an announcement from Town Administrator Fred Turkington, the police department has requested $60,300 for the new officer. The fire department has requested $69,000 for the firefighter/paramedic, which includes the salary as well as some one-time costs such as training and uniforms.
The Board of Selectmen has met with both chiefs to review their budget requests and invited public comment on the budgets leading up to and during a public hearing on Jan. 7.