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February 04. 2013 10:41PM

School officer plan debated in Londonderry

LONDONDERRY - Though fewer than 65 citizens attended Monday night's town deliberative session, much discussion followed a proposal to hire an additional school resource officer next year.

Sitting in front of a small crowd inside the high school cafeteria, both the town council and the budget committee supported a $101,000 warrant item for the hire of "one or more additional full or part-time police officer(s) to fulfill the functions as School Resource Officer."

Resident Don Moskowitz asked where the new SRO would be assigned.

Police Chief William Hart, who is also acting town manager, said the police department would likely assign the new SRO to work at the middle school, though it's possible a part-time officer might also be hired to cover the town's elementary schools.

Londonderry currently has a single SRO who works at the high school.

School board member Nancy Hendricks said she supported the article.

"Tragedy has brought these issues to the surface," Hendricks said. "So I'm exceptionally pleased to see this on our warrant."

Superintendent Nathan Greenberg offered similar sentiments.

"We're wholeheartedly in support of this," he said.

Rep. Al Baldasaro asked: "Are we jumping the gun on this because of Newtown?"

"Why do we need a cop at the middle school when the police department is across the street?" he said. "Is this just a feel-good article? What happens at night when the SRO is only there during the day?"

Hart said the police department "has a limited amount of hours to work with," while Councilor John Farrell noted the item was brought forth before the school shooting in Connecticut.

"The SRO's purpose is threefold: acting as a truant officer, assisting the staff with issues and also acting as a regular police officer. So this isn't a knee-jerk reaction to Newtown," Greenberg said.

Many questioned the item's implications, noting the article's wording leaves an unanswered question of whether police would hire one full-time SRO or part-time SROs at the department's discretion. Following a lengthy discussion, Laura El-Azem proposed an amendment to reword the article to allow for the funding of "one or more part-time school resource officers" but later withdrew that proposal.

Another amendment, proposed by Pauline Caron, suggested rewording the article to specify it would fund "one single, full-time school resource officer" also failed to pass. The item was ultimately moved to the ballot as is.

Coming in at $27,525,281, next year's proposed municipal budget is lower than the $27,635,887 default budget.

Hart said more than $700,000 of the town's budget reflects changes made in the state retirement system.

The item was moved forward to the March ballot.

If passed, the municipal budget would have a tax impact of $4.74 per thousand dollars of assessed property value.

A $710,000 capital reserve item for the planned replacement of ambulances, highway and fire trucks was moved forward without comment.

If passed, the item would have a tax impact of 9 cents per thousand.

Resident Mary Wing Soares moved to increase the town's capital reserve fund for the cable division from $100,000 to $250,000. The town's cable division is fully funded using cable access fees and would have zero effect on property taxes next year.

Councilor John Farrell said, "We're trying to do the right thing, but we want to do it at a pace that's reasonable."

Cable director Drew Caron said the extra funds were needed, as the department experienced several unexpected system failures over the summer. The amendment overwhelmingly failed to pass with voters, and the item will move forward as proposed.

Residents will vote on all ballot items on March 12 at Londonderry High School.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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