By Claire Walla
Much to the surprise of all members of the Southampton Town board, the Southampton Town Police Department has already spent $225,000 more than was allotted in its 2011 overtime budget — and it continues to accrue more debt.
At a town board work session held last Friday, October 28 the board met with Lieutenant Bob Pearce, Deputy Town Comptroller Kathy Scott and Town Management Services Administrator Russell Kratoville to discuss how the police department managed to run such a high deficit. Police Chief Bill Wilson was unavailable last week, though he is scheduled to address the issue again at this Friday’s work session, November 4.
According to Pearce, there are several factors for the overtime shortage. Not only was the department overworked in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, he said a recent shortage of staff has contributed to the need to dip into overtime. The department has lost four officers, bringing its force down to 92, and there are currently eight officers who are out, six of whom are being replaced in their absence.
Councilman Chris Nuzzi demanded to know why, from 2008 through 2011, when there wasn’t a huge variance in the number of police officers, “there is a huge variance in overtime,” he said. “I think drilling down to the details is necessary to see how these numbers shifted.”
Pearce further explained that when Chief Wilson joined the town he increased the number of sectors with 24-hour patrol from seven to eight, adding an additional patrol car for the Flanders/Riverside area, which Pearce said studies have showed has a relatively high rate of crime and warrants 24-hour patrol.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said that it’s important to maintain eight sectors of patrol.
“We saw a very active season this year and there was a commensurate rise in crime activity that needed to be investigated,” she said.
For that reason, Throne-Holst said that the rise in costs came from the detective division.
According to figures read off by Russel Kratoville, the detective division generated 91 hours of overtime in July, 170 hours in August, 120 in September and 150 hours during the first 15 days of October.
For Nuzzi, the crux of the issue goes beyond the reasons why the department has accrued this debt, he is concerned with the town’s immediate dilemma. With two months left in this fiscal year, he emphasized the fact that there is currently a zero in the budget line for the department’s overtime pay.
“How are we going to be able to shift resources around to deal with this?” he asked.
The board had previously authorized shifting $175,000 from the department’s retirement fund to off-set this deficit, but that was before it was revealed that these overtime costs are rising.
“I just want to add that I felt as though I was caught,” Councilwoman Nancy Graboski said. “I didn’t know that we were in this position in the first place. I would have felt a whole lot better about authorizing the money if I had known prior to that — or if we had had something in the way of advisory — that there was no more money left.”