Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen approved a $5.2 million budget proposal by the Waterford Police Department for the 2013-14 fiscal year,
The proposal is a 4.16 percent increase, or $207,729 more, than this year’s $4.99 million total. But First Selectman Dan Steward said the budget is justified because of the increased security needs following the Sandy Hook shootings and because the proposal reflected two years of salary increases, when most other budgets only reflected one.
“With all the issues going on, it would be inappropriate not to fund them completely,” Steward said.
Last Tuesday, the police department proposed a $5.3 million budget, or a 6.32 percent increase from this year’s total, but the Board of Selectmen agreed the total was too high. They sent the budget back to Waterford Police Chief Murray Pendleton and told him to resubmit a budget that was around $5.15 million.
Pendleton said many of the increases in the proposal were out of his control, as they were the result of contracted raises and benefits, accounts he has no control over or from unfunded state mandates. With little else to choose from, Pendleton cut $100,000 from the replacement overtime – which also meant a $7,650 cut to town payouts to Social Security and Medicare – although history shows he underfunded the line item.
In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the department spent $198,329 on replacement overtime, according to Finance Director Rudie Beers. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, which is only half complete, the department has spent $115,814.
Pendleton originally proposed budgeted $250,000 for replacement overtime, but now will only budget $150,000. Pendleton said there is a good chance he would have to come back to the town at the end of the year for more money, but Steward said that is better than having the taxpayers pay for the overtime upfront.
“We don’t know what that line item will be,” Steward said. “At least now we aren’t potentially overtaxing the taxpayers.”
Replacement overtime is when a shift is vacated by a police officer because they are on vacation or on sick leave, among other reasons, and another police officer is used to fill the shift, Pendleton said. Right now, the police department only fills 45 percent of the vacated shifts, Waterford Police Lt. David Burton said.
Ideally, there are five patrol officers on every shift, along with a supervisor, Pendleton said. That number dwindles when police officers take vacation or take sick leave, but the department never allows it to get below three patrol officers on at a time, Burton said.
The line item has historically been underfunded, and often the police department has to get money from the town’s contingency fund at the end of the year to balance its budget, Pendleton said. He said a $100,000 cut in replacement overtime could mean the department is going to have to ask for more money at the end of the fiscal year, which Steward acknowledged.
Adding to the problem, the police officer’s salaries have increased each of the past two years, although last year the increase was not reflected in the budget because the police officers' contract was settled too late. With salaries higher, replacement overtime should increase, Beers said.
At the meeting, Pendleton gave a speech detailing the increased pressures and mandates the police department is facing and said he hopes a committee can be formed to have more control over all the line items in the budget. Steward agreed, and said he thought the police department did an excellent job.
"Truly we believe we have the best police department in the area,” Steward said. “Going forward, we will find the money to make this right. Because ultimately, we expect this police force to provide the best job we can.”