Town officials say it’s possible to save taxpayer dollars by moving away from a system that sees New Canaan Police Department officers, rather than less expensive private contractors, directing motor vehicle traffic during roadside work on public trees.
So long as it’s equally safe to have private companies or tree service providers themselves use their own flagmen, New Canaan could save “a big chunk of change” to the tune of $20 per hour instead of the police department’s $65, Selectman Beth Jones said at the board’s Nov. 18 meeting.
“I wish we could negotiate that more,” Jones said at the meeting, held in the Training Room of the New Canaan Police Department.
The discussion came up as the selectmen approved an approximately $23,000 contract with Mill River Tree Service (for pruning and removal of trees at 21 locations all told, see page six of the public packet here for details).
Tree Warden Bruce Pauley said the job could come with an attendant $4,000 to $5,000 for police for traffic control alone.
It isn’t clear just how much the town pays police for roadside traffic control during public tree work annually. The approved budget for the current fiscal year—the police department’s section starts on page 49—appears not to break out that type of work separately.
Pauley and the selectmen commended the organization and diligence of Lt. Jason Ferraro, who has been appointed to oversee the scheduling of officers from the department’s side.
They also decided to look into whether it’s possible to change the way that work is assigned.
Pauley said: “Police have control of traffic control issues, and they not only are the only ones authorized to divide it, they tell us when it has to be and it is basically every single road. We tried at one point to eliminate roads with traffic, such as dead ends and that sort of thing.”
But that effort never materialized into a change in policy.
Said First Selectmen Rob Mallozzi: “And the police can determine if they cannot make it. They can tell Bruce to go ahead and use a traffic control company. The fact is, they have the right of first refusal.”
Selectman Nick Williams, citing Section 54-41 of the Town Code, said rather that wide latitude is given to the police chief in making such decisions.
Part of that section reads: “In order to protect the public from accidents and to minimize the impediment of vehicular and/or pedestrian traffic within the limits of any town or state roadway within the limits of the Town of New Canaan, the Chief of Police or his/her designee may require that traffic control services and/or devices be employed by the person or entity conducting such work or responsible for such activity, consistent with such rules and regulations as the traffic authority of the town may enact.”
The Town Code “gives our chief of police a great deal of discretion, with respect to ‘may require that traffic control services and/or devices be employed,’ ” Williams said.
“There’s a lot of discretion here, and I would encourage our chief police to take into consideration the considerable expense we pay as a town,” he said. “Obviously, safety comes first.”
Pauley noted that flagging companies—in instances, say, when police are not available to work the tree work job—often employ what may be the most effective way to control traffic.
“When you have a flagging company or even just the tree company, typically they’ll have a sign on a post that says ‘Slow’ on one side and ‘Stop’ on the other you can see that from 200 yards ahead,” Pauley said. “The police will not use those. They have said that by their presence that is enough to slow people down but you don’t necessarily see a police car because they are there with their own vehicle, so there are no lights flashing.”
Pauley added that it can be difficult in some cases to notice a police officer holding his hand out “until you are on them” as a motorist.
Mallozzi said the selectmen additionally would address those procedures with the police chief.