By Kathryn G. Menu
Despite impassioned pleas by Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano, last week the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees rolled out a tentative budget last week that cuts the police department to 10 officers.
If the budget is adopted in its current form, the department’s newest hire — officer David Driscoll, named 2012 Officer of the Year — will be let go.
The village board has proposed an $8,263,381 budget for its general fund for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, a 2.57 percent increase of the 2012-2013 adopted budget, which falls below the allowable 4.1 percent spending increase under the state 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.
At a public hearing last Wednesday and again at Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Village Board meeting, Fabiano implored the board to reconsider reducing his department. The Sag Harbor Village Police Department has already lost one officer to attrition — officer Michael Gigante, who left the department last year in the midst of an ongoing contract negotiation between the village and the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association.
That contract is currently in arbitration. Officers in the department have been working without a contract for nearly two years.
Under the tentative budget, the department is budgeted for $1,659,795 for 2013-2014, a 15 percent decrease over last year’s budget.
Last Wednesday, Fabiano said he was willing to freeze his entire budget to save Driscoll’s position and believed there was savings from the current fiscal year with Gigante’s departure. According to a budget worksheet, in 2012-2013, the Sag Harbor Village Police Department was budgeted for $1,963,040, but is estimated to have spent just $1,522,399.62 as of April 3.
The majority of cuts in the 2013-2014 budget are found in reductions to full time police staff. That line item has been cut by $249,976 in the proposed budget, down to $1,166,910.
“The problem we have is there is continuing escalating costs in both medical, insurance and retirement,” said Mayor Brian Gilbride. “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not your fault, it’s not our fault, it’s also not the fault of the non-police employees, because that cost is going up as well.”
The state tax cap makes it even more difficult, he said.
Fabiano noted the village board could vote to pierce the tax cap.
Gilbride replied that the village is setting aside over $500,000 to cover retirement costs for next year, and with no raises the total compensation cost for the police department has risen by 21 percent.
“What I am looking to do is find a lump of money and say here, this makes it good,” said Fabiano, noting he was originally told $185,000 was needed to save Driscoll’s position, and believes he could find about $150,000. Part of that could be found in savings from 2012-2013 — $1,522.399 of $1,963,040 has been spent to date.
Gilbride said he believes 10 officers and the chief would provide adequate police coverage for the village, and that part time officers and overtime could be implemented to cover any holes in the schedule.
However, Fabiano said his part time and overtime budgets are already stretched thin.
On Tuesday night, he implored the board to again reconsider their position. Driscoll was seated with the chief to watch as his future with Sag Harbor was debated.
“I am aware of the economic times we are in, but that should never interfere with adequate police coverage,” said Fabiano.
He added that not a single member of the village board nor the mayor has asked his opinion as a department head what losing another officer will do to the police department and its ability to service the community.
“I wonder how you can make an informed decision without this,” said Fabiano.
Fabiano said he does not believe 10 officers and the chief will be able to provide adequate coverage to the businesses, community members and school children. He added that ensuring two men are on patrol for all shifts – a practice implemented for safety reasons and for the protection of the community – would be difficult to achieve.
Two independent studies, completed by the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services, noted Fabiano, have said the village police department is understaffed as it currently stands.
Those studies have also recommended that the village’s detective – now Jeffrey Proctor – be largely freed of patrol duties so he can focus on active investigations.
“That police force has been fantastic for our village in so many different aspects you cannot weigh them by just their costs,” said Wharf Shop owner Nada Barry.
Driscoll’s fate is not yet sealed. The village board did not vote on adopting the budget at its Tuesday night meeting, as expected. Gilbride said the board would host a special meeting to adopt the budget, which must be done before May 1.