South Hadley residents deny effort to strip police budget increase

  • Trevor Baptiste, who argued the proposed increase for the police could be better spent, is seen at the Sojourner Truth Memorial Celebration on May 28, 2018, in Northampton.

Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

SOUTH HADLEY — Voters at a Town Meeting on Wednesday approved an operating budget of $48,142,557 for fiscal 2021, including a controversial increase to the Police Department budget.

The budget includes $2,990,308 in funding for the South Hadley Police Department — an increase of just over $175,000 from fiscal 2020. After some residents advocated against the increase, Town Meeting member Jodi Miller proposed an amendment to reallocate the Police Department’s increase to the South Hadley School District. That amendment failed, 56 votes to 38.

Speaking at the Town Meeting, South Hadley resident Trevor Baptiste warned against putting tax dollars toward “ideas that are past their prime,” and said the town can make better use of police funding in other areas, such as education and the environment.

“Education is never an idea that should be past its prime, and we should make sure that money allocated towards what we consider policing efforts should be reallocated towards things that benefit us as a community,” Baptiste said.

Town Meeting member Anne Sobel also advocated for striking the increase for the police from the budget.

“We have been explicitly asked by the movement for black lives to vote no on all increases to police budgets,” Sobel said, “and to vote yes to reallocate such spending to health care, education and community programs that will truly keep all of us safe.

“This is the way we start to solve the longstanding problems of racial disparities, injustice and police violence in general,” she said.

Others opposed the proposal to not boost funding for the Police Department.

Town Meeting member Carol Constant said the conversation about police funding is “really valuable, and I really think that the town needs to interact on this, but I don’t think this is the moment.”

“I think rushing into this without giving a lot of forethought about how to move forward would not be the best way to do it,” Constant said. “I think we can do it more thoughtfully.”

Another Town Meeting member, Michael Wozniak, spoke strongly against denying the increase, stating that he supports it “1,000 percent.”

The proposal to reallocate the increase in police funding came amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, to defund police departments and reallocate money to community resources.

Locally, the Northampton City Council, following protests to cut the police department’s budget by 50%, voted to cut its Police Department’s $6.7 million budget by 10% at a meeting that ran past midnight Friday.

Tension arose before the vote when Miller, who made the proposal to reallocate the increase in police funding to schools, sought to cede her time to Baptiste, who is a South Hadley resident but not a Town Meeting member.

Town Moderator John Hine initially denied this request, stating that non-members “do not have a right to speak, and it is the discretion of the moderator to allow that. And typically, we don’t.”

Hine eventually allowed Baptiste to speak after multiple Town Meeting members approached the podium urging Hine to allow Baptiste’s remarks, with many stating that non-members have commonly been allowed to speak at past meetings.

Among other allocations, the budget includes $21,976,460 for schools; $3,480,086 for retirement benefits; $1,237,768 for the Ledges Golf Course; and $1,434,505 for the Department of Public Works.

Ultimately, voters passed all eight articles on the Town Meeting warrant.

The meeting was held “drive-in style” in the Saint Theresa of Lisieux Parish parking lot.

due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendees parked their cars and tuned into a specific radio station to hear remarks, and raised a green or red card out of their window to indicate a yes or no vote.

The town plans to hold a special Town Meeting in the fall to revise the budget if necessary.