The fate of the Sag Harbor Village Police Department took center stage Tuesday night, as the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees released data detailing the cost of the department, down to each officer. Members of the public also weighed in on a recent proposal to contract some police services through other agencies in the face of rising costs.
For over a year now, officers in the Sag Harbor Village Police Department have been working without a contract. This spring, Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride — with the support of a majority of the village board of trustees — suggested looking at other police agencies, including East Hampton, Southampton and the Suffolk County Sheriffs, for police services.
In the last two months, Mayor Gilbride has said his goal is not to eliminate the department, but that he did want to explore if the village could accrue savings by cutting the department in half and contracting with another agency to supplement police services in Sag Harbor.
Included in the packet the village made public Tuesday night were proposals from the East Hampton Town Police Department, the Southampton Town Police Department and the Suffolk County Sheriffs, all whom have submitted proposals to provide some kind of police service to the village.
The village also released detailed budgetary information about the police department, including a breakdown of each officer’s salary up to Chief Tom Fabiano. According to that documentation, the average salary including all benefits in the department is $183,884.91, ranging from $106,636.67 to $260,154.18 for the chief’s salary with benefits.
In the 2012-2013 adopted budget for the village, the police department budget before benefits was budgeted $2,240,347.01. That included the cost of debt service on the $5.6 million police headquarters constructed in 2004, as well as supplies, insurance, utilities, equipment and vehicles. According to Mayor Gilbride, that figure jumps to $2,454,820.33 when full medical and retirement benefits are taken into account.
This figure does not include the cost for traffic control officers, school-crossing guards or for police dispatch services.
The total village budget for 2012-2013 was $8,056,311.
On Tuesday night, in a room full of officers from the department, many residents spoke in favor of keeping the department intact, only a handful spoke in support of the village board exploring a way to cut the cost of the department.
“I just want to say in this world, everything is not always a matter of dollars and cents,” said Wharf Shop owner and resident Nada Barry, adding she believes the overall ambiance of the village — directly tied to its economy — is made partially possible by having a Sag Harbor Village Police Department.
For Cam Gleason, a resident of Redwood, after experiencing the flooding of her car and home during Hurricane Sandy, having a local police force is more important than ever.
“It was comforting to have our police in the community,” said Gleason. “If it means my taxes go up, so be it.”
Former deputy mayor Tim Culver, who resigned from the board after moving to North Haven Village, is a property owner in Sag Harbor and he credited the board with looking at “tough choices” like these scenarios in an effort to rein in spending.
“I give this board a lot of credit for continuing the discussion to find the right answer for the village,” said Culver.
Also included in the packet of information, was the most recent, formal proposal from the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which calls for a 4.5 percent increase in salary, among other changes in benefits.
When this was proposed, the village responded by offering a proposal with a zero, one percent and two percent increase in wages over three years with new hires required to pay 25 percent of their medical insurance and current members required to pay 50 percent of any increase in medical insurance.
The last five-year contract the PBA obtained also increased salaries by over 4 percent annually.
Former Sag Harbor Mayor Pierce Hance said he believed discussions had occurred with the village where the PBA had offered a lower salary increase.
“We have had two meetings subsequent to that and they have come off that number,” said Mayor Gilbride.
“So this is not accurate,” replied Hance.
Mayor Gilbride said the village and the PBA had met, but the meetings were informal.
“It’s so informal, it has been reported on in the press,” said Hance, pushing Mayor Gilbride for a figure.
“I am not going to tell you,” he replied.
On Wednesday, PBA President Patrick Milazzo also declined to state what salary figures had been discussed during informal conversations between the village and the PBA, which are expected to continue next week.
When Chief Fabiano spoke, he began by thanking Becky Guyer of the Ladies Auxiliary, for helping man the emergency shelter opened during Hurricane Sandy, as well as the volunteer fire department and ambulance corps members for being out in the field as residents weathered the storm, some being forced to evacuate.
“It was a trying time,” said Chief Fabiano. “I saw so many things and it boggles my mind the village is thinking about reducing the police department or bringing in another agency when we see how dedicate this department is.”
Chief Fabiano said he did not believe the Sherriff’s office would be able to provide the same level of service, especially at the estimated $923,520 annual budget they proposed. He added in Southampton, Chief William Wilson has just resigned amid budgetary concerns, which he shares with Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, making them unlikely candidates. East Hampton, which only proposed a plan to provide police service to half the village at a cost of $1,170,200, also doesn’t seem like a viable offer, said Chief Fabiano.
“With a village that is 1.8 square miles, and we have a chief and 12 officers we have to start looking at the cost of the police department,” said Gilbride, adding retirement costs alone have increased to $417,474 annually for the department and the village has seen a 14 percent increase in medical insurance costs.
“I don’t want to see the police department abolished because it would be difficult to get back,” said Mayor Gilbride. “But over the next few years, we are going to have to get a handle on costs. I don’t think someone making over $100,000 should have difficulty paying into their medical.”
Chief Fabiano wondered how reducing the size of the department would work. If only one officer was on, how could they make an arrest and man other calls coming in, he wondered.
“No one wants to fire anyone, no one wants the police department to go, but people want to control costs and there is not a way that comes easily without something being compromised,” said trustee Robby Stein. He noted future budgets will have to account for the village taking over Long Wharf and making other infrastructure improvements while held under the thumb of a state mandated two percent property tax levy cap.
Stein, who said his life was likely saved in a recent biking accident because of the timeliness of the village police’s response, said with over 35 percent of the whole village budget dedicated to police, something has to happen.
Milazzo said he believes the low figures being represented by other police agencies are likely not realistic. He added he believes the department is entitled to exclusivity, meaning the village would have to disband it if they wanted anyone other than members of the department to serve in Sag Harbor.
“My position is you don’t have exclusivity,” said Mayor Gilbride.
On Wednesday, Mayor Gilbride said he would meet with the PBA next week and was moving away from working with another police agency. However, he cautioned, that does not mean he doesn’t intend to bring costs down, even if it means paring down the police force.