Council begins restructuring deliberations; Lehman sounds off

After more than a month of hearing testimony, issuing surveys and taking soundings from the town’s department heads, the Town Council on Wednesday began deliberating which cuts will be put in place on Dec. 5.

Though the deliberations are in an early stage—the council announced a special, unscheduled meeting for Nov. 14 to do more work—Mayor Matthew Lehman seems to have made up his mind.

At the top of his list is to stick by the proposed cuts to the Police Department, and to use Measure R funds for a period of two years to keep the Whitmore Pool open.

Other council members weighed in, too, but none presented clear-cut decisions on the proposed cuts other than Lehman.

He immediately zeroed in on the two most controversial cuts—slicing seven sworn positions from the police force and cutting town funding for the popular swimming pool at Whitmore Park.

“I’m in favor of using Measure R monies for a period of time to keep the pool open, maybe for a period of two years,” he said. “We have to find an alternative program, though.

“I know there is discussion out there for bigger recreation programs and Measure R, that’s what its intent has been for a long time.

“[Schools superintendent] Rich Boccia and the Recreation Commission have been working on the idea of using school land for recreation components, whether it be the pool, and whether it’s things the school can use as well as the public.

“Longer term, I’d like to see Whitmore brought into town and see it incorporated with bigger recreation programs.

“I think Measure R funds could be used to build that, and I think we can bond those funds long-term and have that built out.”

Lehman’s remarks on Whitmore Pool followed an intense testimony from Recreation Commissioner Sean Turner, who argued against using Measure R funds to prop up the pool’s funding. Turner implored the council to keep the pool open, however, he said that funds must be found elsewhere in what has become a barebones budget.

Lehman also took on the police department issue head-on.

“I’m hoping, since the Town Council cannot open their contract, that’s something that’s up to the Police Officers Association.

“I personally hope that we go through some discussions and have those meetings.

“We have a good police force, and with all that’s happened over time, when you get into these discussions of cuts and whatnot, it becomes an us-versus-them thing, and that’s not the case.

“We’re one town, we’re one community and our police force is part of that.

“They’ve been doing a great job. We brought the chief [Dan Watson] on, and under his leadership there have been some great things happening at the Police Department.

“I’m going to stick with the cuts as proposed, but I’m hopeful that we can work with our POA to come up with some alternatives.”

Lehman also took on the subject of new taxes to raise money to help bolster the town, saying he was less than enthused about it, from a Town Council point of view.

“With regard to taxes,” he said, “this is one way to a revenue source as a possibility, and we’ve heard a lot of folks out there discuss taxes.

“The Town Council, I suppose, could bring it up, but I almost think that if it’s brought up, I’d like to see a member of the community step up and get that petition going, if that’s the direction we’re going to go.”