HYATTSVILLE — A new “Clean & Safe Team” program could bring back the perception of safety in West Hyattsville, but some on the city council think the proposed costs are not ideal.
The city of Hyattsville and its council are in the process of putting together a draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year and while the budget proposal process may be filled with dreams of what could be, and the possibilities of new programs and services, the council often has to rethink and rework proposals to fit them into a balanced budget.
During a work session on Jan. 31, the council began discussion on a $250,000 proposal for a new program introduced by Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. The proposed Clean & Safe Team is an idea modeled after Washington, D.C.’s Business Improvement Districts, known as BIDS. Though BIDS are typically instigated by the businesses in an area and supported through an additional tax, Hollingsworth plans to have the city establish the new team and pay for four full-time and three part-time employees of the program.
This pilot program would be for the Queens Chapel-Hamilton Street commercial corridor.
“The Hyattsville Clean & Safe Teams (real name TBD) is a pilot initiative intended to demonstrate the effectiveness of hyperlocal crews to advancing public health and safety,” Hollingsworth wrote in a summary of the proposal.
The roles of those hired would be twofold, Hollingsworth said. They would serve both customer service role – answer questions, give directions, provide trash removal services and water plants – but also be the eyes and ears of the city’s public works and police departments.
The seven new employees would be working shifts between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays with “slightly abbreviated” hours on the weekends.
Hollingsworth hopes this program will not only put familiar faces in the area that commuters will recognize and feel safe knowing they are there, but also create a deterrent for crime in the area.
However, some on the council were confused about the structure of the new program and worried about putting hired citizens in danger as a means to deter crime.
Councilman Thomas Wright had questions about the way the program would be overseen and what duties the new employees would have. Hollingsworth said the new program would be under the city’s public works department but would be “trained and have some oversight of the police department.”
“That raises a bit of a concern for me,” Wright said. “If we’re looking at this folks working with public safety, are we putting them at risk?”
Others on the council shared Wright’s concerns, but the mayor emphasized that the proposed team’s role is not to step in during altercations or crimes, but instead use their direct connections to the police to prompt a quick response.
“It’s not intended that they are patrol officers in any way,” she said.
Though many on the council expressed interest in the program, several noted hesitancy toward the $250,000 price tag for just a pilot program. Councilwoman Shani Warner asked Hollingsworth if there was any room to downsize the proposal.
Warner said she is unsure of the value of the program, though she sees how the proposal could help the area as it begins to see more development but said she would have a hard time putting substantial funds behind a project that does not have a concrete outcome.
“I definitely see at least one rationale for having such a program, but it also seems like a huge commitment to have seven people working on this, a totally new program,” Warner said.
Also, Councilwoman Paula Perry said, based on the city’s past interactions with the businesses in the area, that it is unlikely those companies will chip in for such a program.
However, Hollingsworth said her proposal is the minimum amount she would be comfortable with to ensure the safety of the workers. She said there would have to be more than one ‘ambassador” on duty at a time, and several employees to cover the multiple shifts throughout the week.
“Unfortunately, the seven, I think, is the minimum that we could do to begin a program like this,” she said. “(The $250,000) is intended to be a placeholder as most budget requests are but it’s also the expectation that that is a ceiling budget for the program of city funds.”
Warner said she understood Hollingsworth’s response, she still has a hard time wrapping her head around the idea and Councilman Edouard Haba agreed, saying the proposal cost too much for a pilot program.
The council will continue the discussion on Hollingsworth’s proposal as well as several proposals from the city’s committees and the council as work on the budget continues. The next council work session on the budget is on March 14 at 8 p.m.