Aug 04 2011
The Register Citizen (Connecticut) - by Ricky Campbell
On Monday, the state’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Region 5 will be concluding its spending plan, which carries grants for local fire departments and law enforcement. But some of the federal money coming down to Litchfield County is being wasted, local officials say.
“We’re pissing money away,” said Goshen First Selectman Robert P. Valentine Friday. Valentine, along with the Litchfield Council of Elected Officials (LHCEO), voiced their concerns with federal grant money going to unneeded products. “We’re wasting it. Why do we have to spend this money?”
Included in the DEMHS Region 5’s budget is the purchase of license plate readers for municipal police cars and shooting simulators for law enforcement. The concern is such purchases are irrelevant to emergency management and homeland security.
“It has nothing to do with emergency management,” said LHCEO chairman and Litchfield First Selectman Leo Paul, Jr. “There are some things in [this budget] worth spending money on, but simulators to shoot guns and license plate readers shouldn’t be in here. It’s like we’re saying, ‘let’s spend federal money because it’s there,’ and I have a problem with that.
“It’s stuff we’re spending money on that we don’t need,” he added. “I have a hard time spending money just to spend money.”
Torrington Fire Department Chief and Regional Emergency Planning Team chairman John Field, who presented the paperwork to the board, admitted Region 5’s discussion had run along the same lines. He encouraged the municipal leaders to vote or have a town representative vote depending on their concerns.
Board members offered ideas that the Homeland Security Grant would better suit municipalities in Region 5, which stretches from Redding and Ridgefield in the south to New Hartford and Harwinton in the east, all the way north to the Massachusetts border.
“If we have federal money to spend, why don’t we spend it on federal mandates,” said Barkhamsted First Selectman Donald S. Stein. “It’s a significant amount of money we could be spending to ease the burdens on the towns.”
Region 5’s Steering Committee vice chair John Lawlor of Waterbury said though he understood the council’s position, it was a tough year to finalize specific budget items for the emergency and protection agency.
“This has been the most controversial year,” Lawlor said. “If there’s a surprise, it’s the conflicts and their surprises.”
The DEMHS is responsible for providing a coordinated, integrated program for statewide emergency management and homeland security. Region 5’s vote on Monday encompasses the selectmen, mayors, or other representatives from the different municipalities.
Valentine said the confusion that comes with grant funds could be avoided and the decision-makers need to choose more wisely.
“The representatives need to speak out when foolishness happens,” he said. “It’s not about somebody’s feelings, it’s about the towns.”
Reach Ricky Campbell by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @rickycampbellRC, or by phone at (860) 489-3121 x343.