| Dennis Hackett
NORTHAMPTON – At its June 3 meeting, the Northampton City Council approved the first reading of the fiscal year 2022 (FY22) budget, including the new Department of Community Care, which was one of the primary recommendations of the Northampton Policing Review Commission (NPRC).
To start the discussion regarding the Department of Community Care, Ward 7 Councilor Rachel Maiore said she was concerned the department would not be funded at the amount requested by the NPRC.
“There is $423,955 listed in the budget for the Department of Community plus the $150,000 grant puts us at $573,955 at this point. What I am seeing is $308,647 more needed to meet the minimum funding recommended by the Policing Review Commission to assure the viability of our investment in this department and the safety of all our residents,” she said.
She added that the funding would not be enough to hire the right people for the department.
“My concern is that we are going to waste the taxpayer money by not fully investing and committing to this new department with the new services it will be tasked with. I want the best and the brightest for the Northampton Department of Community Care, and this amount of money will not get that for us,” Maiore said.
Mayor David Narkewicz then jumped in and said that based on the work of the NPRC, he believes the funding is enough to start the department.
“I am extremely grateful to the Northampton Policing Review Commission for the work they did and the recommendations they made. I have done my best in this budget to come up with what I believe is a meaningful first allocation of funding,” he said.
With this funding, Narkewicz said the project has enough money to hire a project manager to begin looking into standing up the department.
“I believe what we need to do is put somebody in charge of this who is now going to take these broad recommendations and make them actionable. I tried to provide them with staff, I tried to provide significant funding for any of the additional studies that may need to be done,” he said.
Narkewicz added that the approach of hiring a director to make the recommendations actionable and providing the proposed level of funding is like what other cities, such as Ithaca, NY, are doing.
With the initial standing up process, Narkewicz said it would be similar to the city’s previous transition to civilian dispatch.
“The goal is based on what I believe will get this new department off to a strong start and get the work underway. That includes how much staffing, how many community responders, what those job descriptions, qualifications, certifications and how it works with other public safety departments,” he said. “That is really what I believe the work will be over the next several months just like it was with the public safety dispatch transition.”
Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge said she was in favor of establishing an advisory committee to help figure out the needs of the department.
“I strongly believe the city needs an advisory committee to guide this first year process in the initial development of the Department of Community Care, we have so many talented residents in this city. I feel there are so many residents who could lead and lend their expertise to guide the new project manager,” she said.
After Ward 3 Councilor James Nash asked Narkewicz how the Department of Community Care would work with the upcoming Resilience Hub, he said they would be two separate organizations that would likely collaborate in the future.
“I see them as two separate initiatives, there may be some coordination and overlap of services at some point but I really view them as two separate, distinct initiatives. You can understand that there will need to be coordination among those stakeholders and service providers that may be involved in the Resilience Hub and the members of the Community Care Department,” he said.
Ward 1 Councilor Michael Quinlan then asked Narkewicz if he would send more funding to the department if the blueprint was finalized before the end of his term.
“Part of this is I want to hire someone and empower them to create the blueprint for what this department would look like. I would most definitely bring forward any transfers that would be needed to support that,” Narkewicz said.
The council approved the budget FY22 with an 8 to 1 vote.
The City Council next meets on June 17.