Mainland Community Guide (34).JPG Northfield City Hall

Northfield City Hall, 1600 Shore Road is home to Police, fire and municipal offices.

Suzanne Marino

NORTHFIELD — City Council voted 6-1 to adopt its 2018 budget at its April 10 meeting. The lone no vote prompted a discussion about whether the city needs more police.

No changes were made to the $13,387,641 spending plan, of which $8,562,684 will be raised through taxes. The tax rate will increase from 92.4 cents to 96.3 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That translates to homeowners paying an additional $78 annually on a home assessed at $200,000.

Councilman Jim O’Neil asked to make a comment before the vote was taken. The veteran Republican prefaced his vote by saying that two weeks prior, when council discussed the budget and asked for any last-minute changes, O’Neil said he was satisfied with the budget and that it included what the city needed and could afford for this year.

“But I have had a change of heart since we last met," he said. "I have witnessed some things occurring here in Northfield, and I think we need to go back in and see if it is possible to make a change.”

O’Neil said he believes he witnessed two drug buys outside a restaurant on Tilton Road over the past two weeks. He also said he saw discarded tiny plastic bags he believes are the type used to package heroin. He added he has friends who have lost their children to drugs.

“I don’t want to see another kid from Northfield die from a drug overdose,” said O’Neil.

Asked whether there was a recent increase in the number of drug-related arrests, police Chief Paul Newman said there was not. He added there have been marijuana arrests involving distribution-type amounts, but not a spike in other drug-related arrests.

O'Neil acknowledged residents would not be happy adding a police officer to the budget if it would increase their taxes, but he said he does not know what else the city can do but be more vigilant and have more officers fighting the war on drugs.

“We need to do something about this, and I think we need to go back into the budget and find a way to include an additional police officer,” said O’Neil. “We have a problem. Heroin is here in Northfield, and I think the only thing we can do to is to add a greater police presence.”

City Chief Financial Officer Dawn Stollenwerk said the cost for adding an officer with a full benefits package would be about $120,000. Bringing on an additional patrolman would add another 1.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value, in which case the tax rate would increase 5.1 cents.

Councilwoman Susan Korngut said she could not support increasing the city’s spending plan, saying she has been very vocal that the city should be making more cuts. Councilman Frank Perri agreed the budget process is difficult but comes down to making tough choices that translate to services or people. Mayor Erland Chau said he does not see how the city could make that change at this time.

Newman said he asks for an additional officer each year at budget time but said he knows the city is hard-pressed to add to the force. According to city ordinance, the Police Department is permitted to have 24 officers. It currently has 21, including the chief. 

He did discuss hiring a special law enforcement officer, normally referred to as a Class II officer, who would have full police powers while on the job, but not outside his shift. He checks his weapon every day at the station, is paid $15.75 an hour and does not get benefits.

One thing the chief said the city is continuing with is the prescription medication drop-off location in the lobby of the police station. So far, it has collected nearly 175 pounds of expired or unused medications.

“People getting this stuff out of their house is not the solution to the drug problem, but it is a good first step in the process,” said Newman. Expired or unused drugs may be dropped off at the station, located through the side entrance of City Hall, 1600 Shore Road. The drop-off is for anyone to make use of and not restricted to Northfield residents.

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