The Police Department is anticipating its FY17 default budget will come in at around $8.4 million, an increase over FY16 of $150,000.
The projected increase is primarily due to increases in health care, retirement and other contractual increases.
Since FY10, the Police budget has increased by about $1.7 million to cover increases in health care, $550,000; retirement, $650,000; the addition of two School Resource Officers, $200,000; and other contractual obligations, about $50,000.
“As you know, some of those things we have no control over,” Lt. Kim Bernard said during a Sept. 24 presentation to the Budget Committee.
Bernard said the Department takes pride in its fiscal responsibility, noting since FY07, the Police budget has returned, on average, more than $160,000 to the Town’s general fund each year by successfully anticipating a second-half spending freeze.
Additionally, the Department generally at the end of each fiscal year encumbers about $27,000, with the permission of the Town Manager, to subsidize expenses where the funds are lacking.
Examples of such expenses include outfitting the fleet with tires, which Police Chief William Hart said costs the Department around $8,000 annually; and ammunition, which costs as much as $27,000 per year.
“Those two lines are not funded to the level which we spend every year, and I understand the reasons for that. We’ve certainly been financially challenged as a community, as most of the states in our country were,” Hart said. “We’ve had to manage our budget to make sure there are tires on the cars, and we have the ammunition to train with. Similarly, the Town will make a judgment in March and determine if a freeze is appropriate. In my experience, in the last 15 to 16 years, we have not had a year where there was not a freeze. We plan for the freeze we anticipate may come next March. We work on about an 18-month lead time in terms of projections; and then, obviously, management and implementation come now.”
Looking to the future, committee member Tim Siekmann asked if there are any major expenses the Department is anticipating.
Hart said while Pettengill Road development hasn’t had much impact on resources, development on Rockingham Road and the future construction of Woodmont Commons are anticipated to increase the demand for services.
“Woodmont will be a horse of a different color,” he said.
However, Hart said he doesn’t anticipate the semi-urban development will cause the police budget to increase too substantially.
“The development agreement for Woodmont contemplates some reimbursement for those increased costs,” he said.
There is also consideration in the development agreement for the project to construct a public safety annex, which would be funded by the development group.
In considering funding for FY17, Bernard described a number of items in the budget that are either underfunded or were eliminated by budget cuts since FY07 and that the Department hopes to see restored at some level in the future.
Areas that have taken a hit include the Department’s community relations program, which is no longer funded or staffed; administrative expenses, which include medical services, vaccinations, dues and subscriptions, seminars and workshops; training; cruiser repairs; special investigations – Bernard noted the Department is battling a heroin epidemic in the community; and animal control.
In 2011, the Department offered the community a fully-staffed Animal Control program, with two part-time officers working 50 hours each week.
Now, the Animal Control Officer is providing 16 hours of coverage, which Bernard said is not a lot of time when people in the town have a problem, or their puppy is missing.
“They call the Police Department for an Animal Control Officer, and a lot of times, he’s not here,” he said. “Now you’re taking the patrol men away from other duties they’re responsible for in town to handle these other small responsibilities – they’re small to us, but they’re huge to the citizen. They’re huge to that family whose dog is missing. They’re huge to that person who has a barking dog that has been barking for 12 hours on a Sunday morning and they’re trying to get rest. I think from a town perspective, we’re looking to increase this to provide a better service for them.”
Patrolmen handled about 400 animal-related calls last year.
It would cost the Town around $90,000 to restore funding to FY07-FY11 levels and provide for the various areas, including animal control, that have had to scale back, according to Hart.
Committee member Ted Combes asked Hart why the department is returning money to the Town each year if line items are not funded properly.
“Based on the budget this year, our goal was to return 1.5 to 2 percent. This was a very good year fiscally,” Hart said. “Our goal is to be as fiscally prudent as we can, at or under budget in all circumstances.”
Hart noted, “the budget doesn’t exist in a flat plane, it exists in a dynamic plane over a year.
“I’m trying to hit a target we decided on in February, 26 months later. It’s a fairly lengthy process to get out there and hit that number,” he said. “My goal is to be at or under budget each year, and at that we succeed every year.”