Stimulus funds keep police ranks from shrinking

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / August 20, 2009

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Five area cities will be able to create or preserve a combined 40 police jobs through $7.6 million in federal stimulus money flowing into the region.

The Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Lynn, and Lowell police departments are among 13 in Massachusetts sharing in nearly $30 million in recently awarded stimulus money that will enable cash-strapped municipalities to add or save 131 police jobs across the state.

In addition, five local communities received good news on another front last week.

Chelsea, Everett, Methuen, Salisbury, and Woburn were among 75 Massachusetts cities and towns awarded a combined $40.4 million in federal Community Development Block Grant money by the state, about $9 million of it from the stimulus law.

“This is great news,’’ Lawrence Deputy Police Chief Michael Driscoll said of the $1.5 million his department is receiving for jobs.

Nationwide, 1,046 police departments were awarded $1 billion for personnel through the Justice Department’s Community-Oriented Policing Services program.

Driscoll said the money, enough for Lawrence to keep seven police officers, “is a real shot in the arm for us to keep our people working and continue the crime reduction we have been seeing the past 10 years.’’

The stimulus awards are intended to cover the salary and benefits of the officers for three years. The departments are required to retain the positions for a fourth year.

Along with other federal money and contract concessions made by the city’s police union, Driscoll said the department has been able to avoid up to 28 layoffs it had been facing this fiscal year.

Captain Randall Humphrey said the $2.1 million the Lowell Police Department received will fund 12 of the up to 26 police officer jobs slated for elimination through layoffs effective Jan. 1. He said the department is confident of securing the additional funds needed to save the other 14 jobs.

The Lynn Police Department was awarded just under $2 million to fund nine officer positions. “It’s a big plus for us,’’ said Deputy Police Chief Kenneth Santoro.

Santoro said the department was facing 24 layoffs this fiscal year. But with the stimulus money, other federal money it is hoping to secure from the state, and cost savings in areas such as overtime, all the jobs may be saved.

Everett police were awarded $1.3 million, enough to fund five jobs. Chief Steven Mazzie said that given the potential of further state aid cuts, he is not yet sure if he will use the money to fill existing positions that have been vacated through attrition, or to prevent layoffs.

Much of the stimulus money went to projects that fell short of funding last fiscal year. The state also set aside some funds for improvements at local public housing projects.

Methuen received $650,000 to rehabilitate 12 housing units, enforce city codes, and help fund social service needs such as child care.

It was also awarded $283,063 in stimulus money to help fund the cost of a project to remove contaminants from a downtown riverfront site and build a park and create parking.

“This is excellent news,’’ said Mayor William M. Manzi III. “There are some great programs involved here, on top of the downtown piece, which is critically important.’’

Other communities that received funds:

■Chelsea: $750,000 to replace sewer lines on Chester Avenue to help with code enforcement, and for social services; $171,108 to replace a boiler at a city public housing complex.

■Everett: $750,000 to fund road and sidewalk reconstruction and for social services, including an afterschool program.

■Salisbury: $728,721 to rehabilitate 13 housing units; design the reconstruction of Gardner Street; support the Boys & Girls Club of Lower Merrimack Valley; and provide fuel aid.

■Woburn: $700,000 to make access improvements to Main Street sidewalks and to fund job-related child care.

■Amesbury: $384,084 for roadway and sidewalk reconstruction in the Aubin-Naysons neighborhood.