Discussion of a long-closed pool dominated much of a community meeting about recreation needs in East Smithfield. But residents there also had much to say about a proposed police substation and recreation center in their neighborhood.
Smithfield’s 2016-17 budget includes $77,000 for a rec center and police substation, but not everyone in East Smithfield thinks their neighborhood needs a substation, and some have a signed a petition against it.
At the community meeting, Town Manager Michael Scott said a police substation was less a treatment for an ill than preventative medicine.
“We don’t need it,” Scott said, acknowledging the objections of East Smithfield residents. “But I’ve done three of these, and I’ve seen it work. ... If I had my way, I’d put one in every district.”
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District 4 Councilman Roger Wood, who represents West Smithfield, interrupted a speaker to say that if East Smithfield turned down a police substation, his district would welcome it. “If you don’t want it, I’ll take it,” he said.
Scott said a community-oriented police substation can help ensure safety by fostering positive relationships between police and a community’s residents, especially its young people.
“This is a police officer who is going to be assigned for you,” Scott said. “He’s going to be your police officer.”
“It’s not about arresting people; it’s not about enforcement,” he said. “It’s a positive thing.”
Some residents weren’t convinced and said a police presence might prompt some people to shy away from the recreation center.
Scott, Smithfield’s former police chief, said the town hasn’t decided where to place the recreation center or what to include in it. He said he wanted input from residents about those choices.
“One hundred heads are better than two,” he said.
Scott said the Family Life Center near Smith-Collins Park would be an ideal location, and he note that the town already owns the land the building sits on. The Family Life Center Inc. owns the building, but the town is negotiating with a bank and the group to try to gain ownership, he said.
In his first 60 days in office, Scott said, said several positive things have happened for East Smithfield. The town has made repairs to East Street and North Avenue, removed a tree on Market Street and addressed drainage issues. At Smith-Collins Park, the town has delivered new bleachers, ordered a new scoreboard, poured concrete for the concession area and painted the restrooms.
Scott also showed a list of summer activities in the neighborhood, including an upcoming arts camp.
A pie chart showed how much money Smithfield had spent on its parks since June 2007. About 35 percent of the $341,000 total had gone to Smith-Collins Park. Most of the money had gone to Community Park.
Scott said he would take the input gathered at the meeting and create a report for the council.
Councilman Marlon Lee said he hoped the town would build on the progress from the meeting, and he said he was pleased by the turnout. But Lee also said the town needed to address the needs of East Smithfield, listen to its residents and treat them fairly.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We have to keep it going.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett