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Wallkill Valley TimesGuns remain a hot topic in Walden

Guns remain a hot topic in Walden

The issue of gun control and common-sense gun safety measures continues to be hotly contested throughout the country in the hothouse atmosphere of a Presidential election year and in the midst of a spate of mass shootings nationwide.

In its Village Board meeting on Jan. 5th, the Walden trustees talked about a small sliver of the matter, continuing their discussion about H.R. 218, a federal bill known as the Law Enforcement Officers’ Safety Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004. The law allows retired police officers to qualify for permits that would allow them to carry concealed weapons in any state in the nation.

Police Chief Jeff Holmes gave a presentation to the board last Tuesday about the police department’s forthcoming proposal to offer qualification sessions for the village’s retired officers and for former cops from other towns who work for Walden. While retired officers can currently go to private carriers to apply for the permit, the police department wants to offer 218 training at its own facility. While the cards do allow retirees to carry guns across state lines, the 218 permit does not supersede the laws of any states that ban gun possession in certain areas.

Holmes said the program won’t cost the village any money from additional liability from Walden’s insurance policy. The police chief said the village intends to cover its bases to make sure its insurance rates don’t go up as a result of the proposed program. “The three things we want to make sure we’re doing to protect ourselves is requiring our retirees to have a New York State pistol permit, that they sign a disclaimer and because they are not employees of the village, they are not covered by our liability,” he said.

The only potential cost to the village from the program would be for compensation for the department’s range officers who would hold qualification sessions two or three times a year for interested retirees. Mayor Susan Rumbold argued that no overtime pay for the range officers should fall on taxpayers, as the mayor declared that citizens shouldn’t cover the price tag for qualifying retired employees. Holmes noted that he expects only a handful of retired Walden officers to apply for a 218 card, and they will have to re-certify every 12 months for the permit.

There is a concern among some about older retirees being allowed to carry weapons, with the police chief expressing reservations about 75-year-old former officers applying for the program. The range officer putting the retirees through the qualification process has the discretion to deny a 218 permit to any candidate they don’t believe measures up. Even if a retired officer qualifies to carry a weapon under the 218 law, they are not legally compelled to respond to an ongoing police emergency situation like an active officer would be. Holmes said the police department hopes to have a proposal available for the board’s perusal in time for the next board meeting on January 19th. “We want to see what the policy says and how it reads before we vote on anything,” Rumbold said. “Then there would have to be a public hearing so the public could comment on that policy.”

In its first board meeting of the New Year, the trustees continued to bolster the village’s traffic regulations, as a local law was adopted unanimously that cracks down on illegal parking in fire zones. The law prohibits “parking in designated fire zones and near fire hydrants in the Village of Walden so as to allow emergency response vehicles to have free and unfettered access to these designated areas at all times.” Any motorist who parks in a fire lane or within 15 feet of a fire hydrant will be subject to a fine of up to $250. The offender may also be on the hook for all expenses related to towing and storage fees for their illegally parked vehicle. “Unfortunately, people see a fire lane and they sometimes ignore it,” Rumbold said. “It’s a public safety issue. If there’s a car parked there and a fire truck can’t get in and someone perishes in a fire, we want to try to avoid that situation. Sometimes when people see those lines, they don’t follow the law, so we just had to firm it up a little bit for public safety.”

The board passed a second local law during the meeting that will increase penalties for skateboarders who ride their decks illegally on public streets. The fines, which could go as high as $250 per violation, will be up to a judge’s discretion. “Obviously for an eight-year-old, where’s he going to get $50?” Rumbold asked. “This is also a public safety issue, because kids are riding skateboards and all of sudden they flip out in the middle of the street and there’s a car coming. So we’re trying to do something to curb that kind of activity. We do have a skateboard park. We’re just trying to be more informative to the kids that they really shouldn’t be doing this in the street. So we have to create a venue to get that message across to them.”

The village did receive some unfortunate news when it learned that its application for funds for the construction of a community center was rejected by the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation agency. The state only doles out $16 million for community projects, and received requests for $77 million in funding for projects statewide last year.

The mayor believes building a new community center would be an essential addition that could strengthen the village. “A community center is the nucleus of a community,” she said. “It’s somewhere where you gather and different events are held there. I think that it’s important that we, as the largest village in the Town of Montgomery, have that place for our community. Our seniors right now meet at the firehouse, and they’re very generous to let them use that space, but they want a space of their own. We have a teen center, we have a lot of activities for the kids, and it’s really important for the senior citizens to also have a place to call their own where they can meet and have their activities as well.”

Walden will continue to explore other avenues for securing the money for the project, and the board plans to reach out to county and state officials in hopes of putting the money together for the initiative. “We’re going to appeal to our elected officials,” Rumbold said. “They know the importance of the seniors in our community. I think if there’s any way they could possibly help us get funding to bring that community center to the Village of Walden, they will.”

By Ted Remsnyder

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