By Kathryn G. Menu
Early last Thursday morning, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees adopted an $8.78 million budget for 2013-2014 which includes a $519,000 budget for the village’s sewer fund. But among the items reduced for 2013-2014 is the village police department’s budget — which will now be forced to cut one officer, leaving the department with 10 officers and its chief.
The decision, after months of debate, will result in officer David Driscoll losing his job with the department as its newest hire. Driscoll, an officer who transferred to the department from the Southampton Town Police Department, was honored as the village’s officer of the year this past January for his work in 2012, including for his service as a member of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office East End DWI Task Force.
The general fund budget of $8,263,381 is a 2.57 percent increase over the 2012-2013 adopted budget and falls below the allowable 4.1 percent spending increase under New York State’s mandated two percent property tax levy cap.
The tax rate under the budget, per $1,000 of assessed value, is set at 2.830, a 3.89 percent increase over last year. Village treasurer Eileen Touhy estimates a house valued at $795,000 in Sag Harbor Village would pay $2,249.85 in village taxes, a 0.0389 increase or $84.27.
Throughout the budget process, the village board discussed scaling back the number of officers in the Sag Harbor Village Police Department to 10 officers. The department currently operates with 11 officers and the chief after the departure of officer Michael Gigante last year amid an ongoing contract negotiation between the village and the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association (PBA).
Officers in the department have been working without a contract for close to two years now. That contract negotiation is currently in arbitration.
While the vote Thursday morning was quickly held — and was unanimous among the board’s four members, Mayor Brian Gilbride, Deputy Mayor Ed Gregory, trustee Kevin Duchemin and trustee Robby Stein — what followed was a prolonged debate between members of the department, its chief and the village board about the impact this decision would have on public safety in Sag Harbor.
Police Chief Thomas Fabiano questioned the decision and asked if the board intended to increase his overtime budget, estimating it could cost as much as $300,000 in overtime to replace losing an officer.
“To me this is, again, an incomplete budget,” said Fabiano, adding he feels officer Driscoll has been used as a carrot in ongoing negotiations with the PBA.
Gilbride dismissed that claim and questioned how the schedule would necessitate an additional $300,000 in overtime.
“This is not about an officer or anything else, but it is about the fact we don’t have an unlimited budget,” said Stein. He added he has received calls from people asking the future of the department be put to a public vote, something he is reluctant to do because he is unsure whether the outcome would result in Sag Harbor maintaining its own police department.
Fabiano noted the village board had not even reached the tax levy cap limits yet and questioned why Stein — or other board members — had not talked to him about the impact this will have on his department.
Stein responded he had spoken about this cut at previous meetings, but did not want to have private meetings about a public issue.
Gilbride said ultimately the decision came down to whether or not the village could afford these kinds of costs. The police department budget for 2013-2014, before any figures are calculated when arbitration ends and officers are compensated retroactively for any increases in salaries or benefits for the last two years, is for $1,659,765.
Fabiano said this is a safety issue and called on the board to develop a long range plan for the police department.
“Summer’s coming up and now I have another guy leaving,” he said, adding part time officers are reluctant to come to Sag Harbor given the level of discourse regarding the police department.
“I am confident with 10 people this village can run a police department,” said Gilbride, who added he went to arbitration last week with a specific goal of trying to keep the 11th position with the support of the full village board. He alleged the PBA asked for a three percent increase in salary and eight-hour fixed shifts, but did not make an effort to save officer Driscoll’s position.
“Why would we put ourselves in a position to not negotiate on behalf of the total membership,” asked PBA president Patrick Milazzo.
He added that the village has offered zero percent salary increases in negotiations and denied claims the PBA did not try to save the 11th position.
“I don’t believe you,” said Gilbride. “And this is not the first time you have not done something to save that 11th position.
“What I am trying to do is negotiate for my entire membership,” countered Milazzo. “What I am not going to do is put myself in a position where I am going to negotiate for a portion of my personnel. That is absurd.”
He added he believes the village is trying to paint this picture to put the blame of this loss on the PBA instead of the village board.
“The village is getting to the point where we can’t afford it,” said Gilbride.
“Then don’t,” said Milazzo. “Do it or don’t, but don’t half ass it.”
“Are you saying we should put something up to abolish the police department,” asked Gilbride.
“If you are not going to do it the right way, don’t do it,” said Milazzo, noting that has been his position consistently when discussing the future of the Sag Harbor Village Police Department.
“By diminishing our department by officer Driscoll’s position you are putting us all in jeopardy,” said Sergeant Paul Fabiano.
He added he believes the police budget and the ongoing contract negotiations should not be linked.
“We are supposed to train, we are supposed to prepare but when you have a one person shift, you don’t have adequate personnel, equipment to do the job, you are set up to fail and that is what is happening in my opinion,” said Sergeant Fabiano.
He added the chief was able to find some $70,000 or more in the budget to try and save the position and the village board should have worked to find the rest of the estimated $180,000 needed to keep the 11th position for the upcoming fiscal year.
The fear is not just for the community, said Sergeant Fabiano, but also for officers on duty, some of whom he feared may have to be on duty on their own to accommodate this loss of an officer.
Gilbride said he believed most shifts would remain two-man shifts.
“Can this department run with 10 people, yes. Does it run efficiently, no. Is there a safety issue, absolutely,” said Sergeant Fabiano, adding Detective Jeff Proctor — the department’s only detective — must work patrol duty, taking away from his investigative work.