A new Waterloo Regional Police satellite office should soon be in operation at the Wellesley arena, as township council this week approved the arrangement.
The township will enter into a formal lease agreement that allows the police to use a small room at the facility in Wellesley village.
Unlike a police station, the satellite office the WRPS hopes to open at the arena wouldn’t be a staffed location. Rather, the office would allow officers to do administrative work, or even use the bathroom at a late hour, without having to leave township for the nearest police stations in Elmira or Waterloo.
“That travel time takes the car away,” superintendent Daryl Goetz had explained to Wellesley councillors last December, when the idea was first pitched. “I’d rather have the car stay out here.”
The interest in placing the satellite office at Wellesley arena, as opposed to a more central location to the other communities in the township, was because of the popularity of the arena. Besides serving as an office, the WRPS are hoping to use the location to promote their messaging and engage with the public.
Coun. Carl Smit for Ward 4, however, strongly objected to the location chosen for the new satellite office.
“I just think it should be somewhere in the centre of the township,” said Smit to his fellow members of council at Tuesday’s meeting. “Everybody would love to have a police station or a fire station or an ambulance station at the end of their street, but we can’t have that. And I think that this should be somewhere central.”
“Like, you’re not going to plunk a fire station right in the very corner of a township. Would we?” he added.
Coun. Peter van der Maas disagreed with Smit, pointing out that unlike a fire or police station, police officers wouldn’t be deployed from the satellite office. The officers were not expected to be spending any significant amount of time at the office, so having a central location wasn’t all that crucial.
Coun. Herb Neher also disagreed with Smit, preferring to defer to the WRPS’s expertise.
“I know what Carl’s saying, but my view is this is [the WRPS’s] decision. It’s not ours. They’re the experts at it, they have all the logistics, they’ve done the surveys, they’ve done the studies. Who am I to tell them where to put their station?” he said.
“I think one of the big reasons why I support it and still do support it is the visibility issue of it,” added Mayor Joe Nowak.
Smit also expressed concerns that work was already started on the new office space before councillors had had a chance to approve the lease. While councillors had been informed of the idea back in December, a formal decision had never been sought from councillors by township staff on the final location for the arena.
“Should that not come to us?” asked Smit. “We haven’t even had a vote on it.”
“We’ve admitted the fact that that process wasn’t followed quite the way it should have been,” responded Nowak, agreeing they should have voted earlier on the subject. “You know we can’t go back and say, ‘we can’t change all that now, and unfortunately we have to.’”
“We got blindsided on that one,” said Smit.
Smit requested having a recorded vote, and emphatically rejected the Wellesley Arena location for the office. Nowak, Neher and van der Maas voted in favour.
Not present at the Tuesday meeting was Coun. Shelley Wagner. However, at the earlier meeting in December, when the idea was brought forward to the councillors, Wagner had expressed concerns similar to Smit’s.
“What we’re hearing here, and Carl will also have to explain this to the people from St. Clements as I will have to explain to the people from Hawkesville, is that once again it’s something that’s going to Wellesley,” said Wagner in December.
As per the lease agreement approved by council, the WRPS are being asked to pay a lump sum of $7,700 in advance to the township for renovations to the new office, but otherwise won’t be charged any rent.
“The reason there is no actual rent required is it’s a benefit to the township to have the police presence in the township,” explained Rik Louwagie, township CAO, before the council meeting on Tuesday.
“So if we want the added police presence, then it’s the responsibility of the township to assist in providing that space. It’s a way we can get that police presence with no actual cash outlay from the township tax base.”
The satellite would occupy an 8- by 9-foot room at the arena that, Louwagie noted, was being underutilized as a storage space. It would be located on the first left from the main entrance, past the ticket booth.
The lease is for a five year period, with a tentative start date of this Monday. However, the WRPS board must also approve the lease agreement before it can be signed by both parties and take effect, noted Louwagie.