|North Adams Public Safety Budget To Increase $400K|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
10:05PM / Thursday, May 24, 2012
|The Finance Committee reviewed the Public Safety budget on Thursday.|
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mayor Richard Alcombright is proposing about a $400,000 increase in the budget's Public Safety Department in hopes to curb overtime costs and put more police on the street.
Mayor Richard Alcombright hopes that increasing current staff levels in the Police Department and strengthening the number of reserves will curb overspending in the overtime budgets.
The budget includes fully funding the public safety commissioner position, which was only partially funded in 2012 because retiring E. John Morocco cut his hours, hiring three police patrolmen and increasing the number of reservist in the Fire Department.
The overall public safety line item, which encompasses such departments as the police, fire, inspection services and Board of Health, is proposed at $4.7 million - an increase from about $4.3 million.
"I'm still very, very committed to public safety," Alcombright said after reviewing that line with the Finance Committee on Thursday.
In recent years, both the Police and Fire departments have lost members either to injuries or taking other jobs, which has taxed the overtime budget. In 2011, the Fire Department's overtime budget nearly doubled and this year, the Police Department is projecting the same. While the Fire Department overtime budget is expected to be overrun by about $50,000 this year, the police are over about $152,000 to compensate for losing officers.
Overall salaries in the Police Department will be about $240,000 over, which is mostly to do with overtime and overruns in lines such as reservists. Alcombright said he is partly to blame because he mandated a certain number of officers to be on duty on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
"We currently have 13 patrolmen, which is a very scary number," Alcombright told the committee. "This budget puts us back at 16."
The mayor hopes that adding three full-time patrolmen and having more reservists will cut down those overtime woes. On the Fire Department side, Alcombright said he hopes to add four reservists. The reserves fill in when needed to keep the full-timers from working overtime at the higher rate. Additionally, Alcombright said it would help employee morale by not forcing the full-timers into working overtime.
"They work overtime and yes they get paid for it but it wears them down," Alcombright said.
However, it is difficult to tell exactly how much the additional manpower will save in the end, Alcombright said, because of the unpredictability of injuries and officers leaving. If staffing becomes low, the city still needs to provide safety service and needs to fill those shifts, Alcombright said. The overtime budgets have not been enough in the last two years and but are still being level-funded.
"What people need to know is that public safety is 24/7, 365." Alcombright said. "The key to public safety is everybody being healthy."
The Finance Committee went through the budget line by line and questioned procedures on a few items - such as the animal control officer's operations and a $30,000 line for police academy expenses.
The Finance Committee got their first look at the budget and questioned some lines.
City Councilor Lisa Blackmer asked about the animal control officer being "proactive" because that officer works police detail as well. The animal control officer is on-call but works a typical day shift. During her regular shift, she answers animal calls and off-duty hours are turned into time off from the details, Morocco said.
"Her first responsibility is her job," Morocco said.
Blackmer, however, wondered if the city is losing revenue from unlicensed dogs. The officer responds only when complaints are made but is not actively seeking out unregistered animals.
Alcombright said the city clerk does call owners of unregistered animals and Morocco said the animal control officer is complaint-based but there isn't much more that she could do to find unregistered dogs.
As for the $30,000 for police academy expenses, Morocco said that number is typically listed under other expenses but was pulled out and a new line was created for it. The money is to paid for equipment training officers need to complete academy training, Morocco said.