Midnight Watch Commander Lt. Ryan Kearney told the Budget Committee the police departments has budget concerns this year, one being the need for an additional School Resource Officer (SRO).
“As much as six years ago we had four SROs covering our six schools and with budget cuts we have two,” he said. “Instead of trying to put that onto our budget, we’re going to be presenting it as a warrant article for this upcoming year.”
Another concern this year, Kearney said, is the steady increase of health insurance costs and the current state retirement system. “Everything appears to be steadily on the rise,” he said, noting that a lot of the increases are contractual.
Police Chief William Hart told the committee at its Thursday, Sept. 25 meeting that there were two main cost drivers in the benefit line – health insurance and retirement. He said the town receives no state money for retirements.
Kearney said training costs were another area of budgetary concern because officers could not forego training, which is mandated by state statute.
“Other issues that come up is the squeeze that has been placed on us as far as discretionary spending,” he said. “A case in point is that we are in need of five new radios to the tune of $20,000 and that money was not budgeted.”
In making his case for the increased needs, Kearney said the additional SRO would protect “our most prized possession, which is our children,” the continuing rises in benefit costs has had an adverse impact on the overall cost of operations, and continuing decreases in the discretionary fund reduce the level of services that can be provided.
Kearney said that for the last five years the department has been under budget, and looked to be the same for FY15. “This past year for FY14 we’re under budget plus or minus $300,000,” Kearney said.
“Typically it isn’t in that range,” Hart said. “Typically it’s a low of $27,000, which was in 2008 or 2009, to about $100,000 or $120,000. This year the police department did not hire, even though we’ve had two hiring processes since then.”
Kearney noted that the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport division of the LPD is entirely funded by the airport and produces revenue for the town in administrative fees.
“Right now we’re at 80 full-time personnel, seven part-time and one volunteer chaplain, and right now we’re anticipating a default budget for FY16 of $8.15 million,” Kearney said.
He said the department has had 1,765 criminal reports investigations, 847 arrests, 570 accidents, 1,637 citations and approximately 25,000 calls for service.
Committee member Mark Aronson asked about the Animal Control Officer. “One of the minor problems in this town is that the Animal Control Officer has been cut really bad,” Aronson said.
Hart said that 30 years ago there was a full-time officer and a part-time officer in Animal Control, but because of budget cuts, the full-time and part-time positions were cut to two part timers working a total of 50 hours per week, and has been further cut to one officer putting in 16 hours a week.
Committee member William Mee asked if staffing levels were adequate and Hart said they were not.
“What we’ve seen this year is the 25,000 calls for service but we’ve also seen an increase in the number of arrests and another area of increase is traffic accidents,” Hart said. “There’s a lot of construction activity on our roads and an increase in traffic every single day, which will make it more problematic for those who drive our roads. The single most effective traffic device is a policeman in a uniform in a marked unit.”
He said that if looked at over 30 years, the population has increased, the number of arrests has increased, and the calls for service have increased by about 10,000, while the department has only 8 or 9 more officers than it had in 1990.
Mee asked why the department did not hire officers with its $300,000 surplus.
“Specifically without that $300,000 I knew as the acting town manager, when I turned the reins over to (Town Manager Kevin Smith) that we would not make budget as a town,” Hart explained. “So I chose, based on experience as the acting town manager and my understanding of the budget process, not to hire anybody this year.”