Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen unanimously rejected a $5.3 million budget proposed by the Waterford Police Department for the 2013-14 Fiscal Year, saying the proposal is too large and needs to be cut by roughly $157,000.
The police department proposed a $5.3 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which is a 6.3 increase over this year’s $4.99 million total. The selectmen agreed the budget represented too large of an increase, and the police department should bring back a proposal that cuts the increase in half to around 3.16 percent, meaning a total budget of approximately $5.15 million.
“Six percent is just too high,” Selectman Paul Suprin said. “It is almost not fair to the other departments who kept their increases to around 2 or 3 percent or less.”
The police department’s proposal represented a $315,397 increase over this year’s total, which was the largest proposed increase to the municipal government’s budget by any department. Other comparable departments proposed smaller increases, and the selectmen agreed the police department needs to cut the increase to half of what they originally proposed, or at around 3.16 percent.
“That’s what our ask is,” First Selectman Dan Steward said. “You have the expertise on where to cut it, we don’t. My approach is for you to attempt to find it.”
Waterford Police Chief Murray Pendleton said the proposal was increased for a variety of reasons outside of the department’s control, including contractual raises and the need to upgrade the computers inside the police cruisers. He said the town government, which signed off on a contract that gives salary raises to the police officers, makes it very difficult to keep the budget where the selectmen want it.
“It is going to be nearly impossible to get it to 2 or 3 percent with the contracts you guys have signed off on,” Pendleton said. “This is what it costs us to do business in the manner in which we do it.”
Steward told Pendleton to come back with a proposal around $5.15 million. The Board of Selectmen must take final action on the police budget, along with the rest of the municipal government’s budget, by the end of the month, so Pendleton will have to come back with a proposal by then.
Steward said he wants most of the town departments to submit budget proposals that have increases at 3 percent or less. Many of his departments complied, with several large departments proposing small increases or even decreases for the 2013-14 Fiscal year.
For example, the Public Works Department is proposing a $4.69 million budget for next year, which is a 0.80 percent increase from this year’s total. The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a $1.04 million budget for the Waterford Public Library Tuesday night, which is a 0.32 percent decrease from this year’s total.
However, Pendleton said there were several items in the police budget he has little control over or has to be done. He said the budget proposed for the police department is what the department needs to operate.
“(The $5.3 million proposal is) what it will be,” Pendleton said. “Because I see no way it can be less than that.”
The largest increase in the budget is in salary. The reason is police officers got raises of around 2 percent the last two years, and the raises were not reflected in last year’s budget because the contract was approved too late, Pendleton explained. Therefore, the budget is showing two years of salary increases in one year, he said.
That also has ramifications in the overtime budget, Pendleton said. The overtime hours are the same, but the rates are higher so the budget is higher, he said. And the hours are not going to decrease, he said.
“There is no indication to us that we can afford to operate with (less) people on the road as we don’t foresee the amount of severe storms or incidents is going to decrease,” Pendleton said.
The department is also looking to install 21 new computers inside the police cruisers, as the existing computers are outdated, Pendleton said. Pendleton proposed leasing those computers instead of buying new ones because he said it was a better use of taxpayer dollars.
However, the selectmen agreed that the proposal was just too high. They said they would like the increase to be about half as much as the police department proposed, or around 3.16 percent, meaning the police budget would be around $5.15 million for the 2013-14 Fiscal Year.
“On a big budget, 6 percent is just too much,” Suprin said. “It is an unfortunate thing in life, but it’s just going to get tougher.”