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STELLARTON – Monday night the Town of Stellarton voted to move forward with the recommendations of the police review committee.
This was a unanimous decision by council with roughly over 15 people in attendance during the vote.
The police review committee made two recommendations, the first being that the Town of Stellarton maintain the status quo of the Stellarton Police Department, while pursuing a long-term amalgamated policing option, which will include at a minimum: Westville, New Glasgow, Trenton and Stellarton.
Their second recommendation was that the Town of Stellarton request that the minister of justice implement a policing study with respect to the amalgamation of policing in Pictou County and that the town commits to adopting the recommendations of the report once completed.
“The committee concluded that none of the proposals presented are in the long-term best interest of Stellarton or Pictou County based on short and long-term financial obstacles, as well as the lack of ‘big picture’ consideration,” police commission chairman Don Taylor read prior to councils vote.
The four proposals received by Stellarton were from the Town of New Glasgow (sale of services), RCMP (sale of services), Town of Westville (proposing partnership with Stellarton) and Town of Stellarton (status quo).
After receiving the statement and recommendations from chairman Taylor, councillor Judith MacLellan spoke, stating first that she would be voting in favour of the recommendation, but wanted to explain why she would be doing so.
She stated it was her belief the police review committee was formed to address the rising cost of police services and how it affected the town’s budget.
“It’s unfortunate, but reality is that small municipal forces will not be able to sustain,” she said. “I feel we need to find more economical choices, such as regional departments that will provide more cost-effective quality service.”
In the statement from chairman Taylor he also made it clear that maintaining the status quo leaves finding a long-term and sustainable option firmly on the town’s shoulders. Although that is the case and council is prepared to continue dealing with this issue, both councillor MacLellan and Denise Taylor voiced their frustration with the process. Taylor even hinted that determining the best policing option for the town was too tall of a task for the committee.
“From the start I found the process exasperating,” said councillor Taylor. “We lacked a shared vision, transparency and the opportunity for public input and no clear sense of purpose with a solid link to an evaluation process that determined the best solution.
“All too quickly, it was evident the mission to determine the best policing option was a much greater undertaking than our committee could attain.”
MacLellan shared councillor Taylor’s frustrations.
“In my opinion, since the creation of the police review committee there has been confusion and a lack of shared vision for the future of policing in our town,” she said in her statement. “The process was frustrating, not always transparent or engaging with the public. There was a lack of productive discussion and no agreed upon evaluation or assessment criteria. Attempts to correct these issues were not successful.”
That engagement with the public, or lack thereof, was also discussed by town resident Fred Vienneau during the open forum at the end of the meeting. He referenced the town’s Jan. 13 council meeting where multiple council members stated that the public would be involved in the process.
Councillor George Megeney stated in that meeting during the open forum that before the town proceeds in the decision process the “four proposals must be made public so that the public can read them, understand them and understand the position the town will take.”
In that same open forum on Jan. 13 councillor Taylor stated “the decision would be narrowed down, but the public would have an input before the final decision was made.”
Vienneau voiced his concern Monday night, stating that wasn’t done, although Megeney did ask the town’s solicitor prior to passing the motion if the proposals could be given to the public so they could understand the decision the town made. The solicitor said he would double-check, but that he didn’t think that would be an issue.
“Just by okaying the status quo it doesn’t answer a lot of questions that our citizens have,” he said. “I believe if they’re given the information from the proposals it will help them understand why we took the decision we did take.”
This motion and decision by council to continue with the status quo and the purchase of administrative service of the Chief of Police from the Town of Westville is still pending the approval of the minister of justice. Should that approval happen the town made it clear multiple times during the discussion on Monday that they want this to be temporary and have the minister implement a policing study.