Finance Committee won’t recommend $1M public safety plan to Holyoke City Council

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HOLYOKE — With questions still looming around the sustainability of the $1 million public safety initiative called Ezekiel’s Plan, the Holyoke Finance Committee voted unanimously to refer the plan to the City Council without a full recommendation on Monday.

The Holyoke City Council is set to vote on the safety plan at its meeting tonight. If passed, Ezekiel’s Plan, also known as Operation Safe Streets, would include several city departments, local, state and federal agencies, working together to reduce violent crime and improve quality of life in Holyoke.

While there are still more conversations to be had, Holyoke Mayor Joshua A. Garcia reminded the Finance Committee that the plan was created to mitigate and prevent tragedies, like the one stemming from a shooting on Oct. 4 that claimed the life of a newborn baby boy named Ezekiel.

“Vote or don’t,” Garcia said. “The community wants to get started and (is) tired of waiting around for local government, who they feel like doesn’t care about them.”

The plan includes funding for increased property inspections, creating the homeless liaison position, tenant and neighborhood protections, and a new community response division to be appointed by Garcia, if passed. According to Garcia, the community response division will aid residents with housing and neighborhood issues that often lead to or attract illegal activity, violence and homelessness.

When announcing Ezekiel’s plan on Oct. 30, Garcia said it would be paid for with several sources, which included the federal American Rescue Plan Act, the city’s capital stabilization fund, opioid settlement money and other local appropriations.

On Monday, Finance Committee Vice Chair and City Councilor Kevin A. Jourdain teased out several positions and expenditures in the plan he was opposed to, including $50,000 to support a health inspector position.

“The question is, what’s the long-term sustainability we are committing to? Do we have an extra $50,000 every year to fund that position? It says here they’re going to do housing-, trash- and permit-related inspections. Is that position going to bring in revenue of $50,000 or more?” Jourdain asked.

While funding projections have not been outlined, fees, inspections, permitting and enforcement are typically revenue sources an inspector would bring in, said Sean Gonsalves, the director of the Holyoke Board of Health.

Jourdain also said he doesn’t agree with spending $90,000 for housing and legal counsel for tenants.

“Our job is to check apartments. Make sure that people live in safe and sanitary housing conditions. That’s always been a responsibility of a municipality, but buying lawyers for people to get in fights with their landlord is not the duty of city government,” Jourdain said.

Israel Rivera, city councilor and chair of the Public Safety Committee, also questioned portions of the safety initiative that included legal counsel for tenants, the sustainability of five police officers and overtime, why a task force would be created to travel outside of Holyoke, and what a homeless liaison’s role and responsibilities would look like.

The city’s Finance Committee won’t recommend public safety plan to Holyoke City Council. Pictured here is Mayor Joshua Garcia, speaking after a deadly Oct. 4 shooting in Holyoke. (Don Treeger / The Republican, File)

Garcia said funding amounts for each line item are not set in stone, and the safety plan is packaged together for flexibility.

“It is more like these are the things that we are looking to do, and here’s what we’re looking at for costs. The $1 million is a flat line item,” Garcia said.

For example, Garcia said, during his presentation at a public safety meeting on Nov. 29, youth programs are yet to be identified.

“It’ll be a process of soliciting proposals from organizations,” Garcia said.

Garcia proposed the $1 million comprehensive public safety initiative as a part of a supplemental budget, but then on Nov. 21, Holyoke City Council passed the supplemental budget without funding the public safety plan.

During a Nov. 29 City Council meeting, Garcia said he pulled back on the public safety plan to further explore and explain funding sources with the Finance Committee.

One of the main reasons Ezekiel’s Plan was pushed back to the Finance Committee was because of concerns about adding the additional police officers, and how to pay their salaries after the one-time ARPA funding is used up, Joseph M. McGiverin, the chair of the Finance Committee, said during the November meeting.

The original public safety plan was to include hiring 13 additional foot and bike patrol police officers; that has now been dropped to five and will be sustained through attrition funding when other officers retire within the next few years.

Funding for the plan originally included the installation of a citywide surveillance camera system, but that has been funded by the city’s supplemental budget. It also included a crime analyst position, which might be brought back to the City Council for a future vote.

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