|North Adams Struggling to Recruit, Retain Police Officers|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
01:58AM / Tuesday, May 02, 2017
|Finance Committee members Keith Bona and Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer discuss the budget with Mayor Richard Alcombright. Bona recused himself from talking about the police budget as his son may be applying to the department. |
Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, left, explains some of the difficulties in recruiting and retaining police officers.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Low pay and high call volume are making it harder to attract and retain police officers in the city.
"There are two things against us," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Finance Committee last Thursday. "If the city of North Adams wants to attract and retain police officers, then they're going to have to pay more than $38,000 a year to start."
Plus, he said, "we have some of the, if not one of the, highest call volumes in the commonwealth." Even if North Adams doesn't some of the major crimes as in other urban areas, officers are still dealing with domestic incidents, stabbings, drugs and bar fights. "It's not like these guys are just running around writing parking tickets."
The city budgets for 23 officers but struggles to fill those spots because of injuries or retirements, he said.
The issue came up during last week's Finance Committee meeting, as the committee reviewed the public safety and services budgets for fiscal 2018. The total budget is up
about 1 percent over this year, at $40 million.
The Police Department is budgeting $242,000 for overtime in fiscal 2018, although that's down from $305,000 last year.
Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said about 19 officers are working right now. Three officers are out on extended disability, with two expected to retire and the third to be out for six months on knee surgery. Two are at the academy.
But it's difficult to attract local Civil Service candidates, he said. Of six local people on the last Civil Service list, one signed on and is at the police academy; of the latest, of the five residents on the list, not one signed. That means the department had to ask for a longer list, hoping to recruit someone from outside the area.
"I had 38 names statewide, of the 38, I have one possibility that may come," Cozzaglio said. "One. And I'm looking for three."
The problem in recruiting non-Berkshire residents is that they often leave in a few years to be closer to their home towns, he said.
"We're going to train them up, get them all set to go, and he's probably going to leave on us," Cozzglio said. Plus, the desire for long-term police work isn't evident in today's young people. "It's not a career, it's a stepping stone but it costs us a lot of money to provide that stepping stone."
Alcombright said he'd like to be able hike salaries to retain an educated, high-quality police force, but it wasn't in the city's budget.
"I would love to able to say we'll bump everybody $3,000 up to whomever, but that's $3,000 times 23. That's $70,000. How do we manage to give that?" the mayor said. "I'm not willing to sacrifice in the budget the number of cops to be able to pay more. ... We need 23 cops. We probably need 25, 26."
He said the same issues are arising in the Fire Department because of the very specialized work required.
"We're just up against it," he said. "And we're trying to come to grips with how we fix this."
The overall budgets for public safety and service held few surprises. They do include two positions, one in Wire & Alarm and the other in inspections.
Wire & Alarm has been without an assistant for some years but the amount of work for the department calls for another person, Wire Inspector Michael Lescarbeau said. His department is in charge of all electrical needs, including repairing street lighting, electrical cabinets, lighting controls, lights in municipal parking lots and buildings, video surveillance, communications radios, and technology wiring.
Alcombright said some could be done through contracted services but an assistant would be a better use. The salary would start at $39,900 with an adjustment as needed.
Inspection services was consolidated several years ago and one position not filled. With a retirement in weights and measures, the position will be filled with a full-time person.
"We think it would be a good idea to bring back a position that would be weights and measures and backup staff," the mayor said. "Even putting that back, it's still down one."
City Councilor Robert Moulton Jr., who attended the meeting, asked about lowering fees or privatizing the transfer station.
Changes have been made at the transfer station to better reflect the cost to run it and continued the drop in volume as larger haulers are going to a larger facility in Vermont.
"I don't know if we want the big haulers back," Alcombright said. "A big part of our problem was where it was taking too much trash for too little space ... we've got a good solution ... residents seem to be happy, the price points are good."
Public Services Commissioner Timothy Lescarbeau also talked about the needs for the water treatment plant that were raised in capital budgeting discussions
a couple weeks ago. Alcombright reiterated that he would be bringing a borrowing authorization forward of about $600,000 to address updates at the treatment plant and which would include about $75,000 in roofing repairs for the public safety building.
North Adams Budget Draft Fiscal 2018 by iBerkshires.com on Scribd