Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride and Sag Harbor PBA President Patrick Milazzo spar during a village board meeting Tuesday night.
By Kathryn G. Menu
Tension has continued to mount over the course of the last two months as the Sag Harbor Village Board contemplated and eventually adopted a budget that lays off an officer from the Sag Harbor Village Police Department.
On Tuesday, that tension boiled over during a village board meeting.
Mayor Brian Gilbride sparred with Thomas Fabiano, village police chief, Sag Harbor Patrolman Benevolent Association (PBA) President Patrick Milazzo and Southampton PBA Vice President Kevin Gwinn, as the latter three attempted to convince Gilbride, and the rest of the village board, to keep 11 officers in the Sag Harbor Village Police Department after the 2013-2014 budget takes affect in July.
That would save the position of officer David Driscoll — present with his family at Tuesday night’s meeting. Being the last officer hired in the department, Driscoll’s position was cut during the budget process. At the same time, the village has been in a contract dispute with the Sag Harbor PBA, which has been working without a contract for two full years as of June 1. That negotiation is in arbitration.
“One last appeal,” said chief Fabiano. “I know you don’t want to hear it.”
Board member Kevin Duchemin asked about the ability for the village to apply for a grant which, according to Gilbride, would provide $125,000 over three years for new hires or re-hires in a police department.
Fabiano did not return calls on Wednesday to confirm the details of the grant.
On Tuesday night, Duchemin — who would later say he was unaware he was voting for the police department’s budget when he and the rest of the board unanimously adopted the 2013-2014 general fund last month — wondered if the 11th position could not be saved while Fabiano was applying for this grant.
“No,” said Gilbride, adding the grant would not take affect until the fall and the position was unfunded in the budget.
At the end of April, the village board unanimously adopted a $8.2 budget that left the Sag Harbor Village Police Department with 10 officers and its chief — a reduction of two officers when compared to last year’s budget.
In addition to Driscoll’s position, the village board removed the position of officer Michael Gigante through attrition. Officer Gigante left the department last fall for a position in another department amid the stalled contract negotiations.
“What would the cost savings be on cutting one officer on a household basis,” asked Milazzo.
While Gilbride did not have a solid figure Tuesday night, Milazzo said he believed it would be $49.79 a year, $4.15 a month or $0.14 a day — a figure Gilbride disputed.
On Wednesday, Gilbride said Sag Harbor Village Treasurer Eileen Tuohy has drawn up figures for the cost of an officer with a year-round base salary of $175,000 on the average homeowner, although those figures were not immediately available. Gilbride did say it was a figure larger than what Milazzo presented on Tuesday night and noted that based on the contractual 238 days an officer must work that salary results in a daily pay of $735.29.
On Tuesday night Milazzo was adamant his figures were accurate.
“According to my math it is and I think that is a small price to pay given the service we provide the village,” he said.
Milazzo questioned why the village would be cutting an officer at a time it has a surplus in its fund balance, particularly when it is buying new equipment for the village’s public works department like a $200,000 street sweeper.
“Why when the chief found $75,000 was the idea of not cutting a position not given a second thought,” asked Milazzo.
Gilbride countered he attended the most recent arbitration hearing in an effort to save this position, but the union was unable to offer any concessions to save Driscoll’s job — something Milazzo denied.
Milazzo also wondered how the department could be properly staffed, but Gilbride said while the schedule would be difficult to figure out with 10 officers he believes it is possible to schedule two officers for every shift and have an extra 190 shifts available after they meet their contract days.
“As of right now we work shifts alone and we have 11 officers,” said Milazzo. “You are setting us up for failure.”
“We are a committed group of officers who have tried to remain professional throughout the whole process, but we can’t remain silent anymore as the mayor sits by, pushing his own agenda,” said Milazzo. “We ask the board to reconsider the layoff.”
Milazzo noted the decision not only impacts the department, entering the summer season, but also families.
“This is a serious decision — something that needs a little bit more thought and consideration — and you guys need to see what is going on.”
Gilbride attempted to go into executive session, but at the protest of the crowd Gwinn was allowed to speak.
Gwinn is not only with the Southampton Town PBA, but is also a member of the Suffolk County Police Conference.
“I have a great deal of respect for you and your board,” said Gwinn. “These are brutal times.”
Gwinn said an officer’s salary should not be valued by the calls they get, but rather the risk they are at every time they are on the job.
“This isn’t Southampton,” said Gilbride, adding police services are getting too expensive for Sag Harbor. “We don’t have the resources or the tax base.”
He added police budgets generally account for the largest section of a municipal budget.
“Otherwise you don’t have your nice schools, you don’t have your Main Street,” he said.
Gwinn estimated for a house valued at $795,000 he believes they would pay $21.90 a month to cover the cost of an officer. He added while Southampton is losing officers, it is through attrition, not layoffs.
Gwinn then raised the question about whether or not the full board really voted unanimously for the budget, which was when Duchemin said he did not intend to approve the police budget.
Duchemin, a sergeant with the East Hampton Village Police Department, is the PBA president there and like Gwinn is a member of the Suffolk County Police Conference.
Given Duchemin’s admission, Gwinn asked the board to revisit the budget again.
“It’s a tight budget,” said Gilbride. “There are a lot of things we need to get done. It’s a no.”
Gwinn called that a “disgraceful answer.”