Town budget requests: Police request full complement plus

Except for Police Department requests and capital requests, there are no major increases in the town budget proposals presented at last Friday’s budget workshop. About half of the proposed department budgets showed decreases while many others were for modest increases or no increase at all.

The town does not provide final budget numbers until the selectmen have approved their budget, which then goes to the finance board.

Police Chief Douglas Fuchs requested that an unfilled officer’s position dating back several years be filled and that a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) be hired for the elementary and middle schools. The Redding school board and schools superintendent asked for the SRO officer, he said.

At Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, the board decided to send the request for the two officers, along with a proposed $135,000 expenditure for Redding school security and an appropriation for police overtime for this fiscal year, to the finance board. If approved, the appropriations for these three items would go to a town meeting (see other story in this issue).

Regardless of the outcome, the requested police budget includes money for the two officers at a projected cost of $81,000 each, which includes $48,000 for salary, benefits, uniforms, etc.

Police Chief Douglas Fuchs said he had prepared his budget before the tragedy in Newtown on Dec. 14, but had tweaked it a bit after speaking to the Redding Board of Education, which has requested continued police presence in the schools, specifically a full-time SRO and additional police personnel as needed.

“My initial request was before Newtown based on my assessment of the needs of the community, and the 17th officer was to be a part-time SRO/investigator,” the chief said

On Dec. 14, a lone gunman killed 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, as well as six adults.

The school board has requested a full-time School Resource Officer for the elementary and middle schools. That would be a new police officer.

The chief also asked to fill the position of patrol officer that was authorized several years ago but never filled because of the economy. It is a request he has made in the last several years. The hiring of this officer would bring the department to its full complement of 16; the new SRO post would make the number 17.

The 16th officer would be used as a youth officer and an investigator, the chief said. The youth officer would be more responsive, not proactive in encounters involving youth, he said, adding that the officer would be an additional resource on the day shift and would maximize the police’s visibility in and around both public and private schools.

The SRO would be a full-time police officer, but would not be used except in the schools when schools are in session, Chief Fuchs said. This officer could be used for overtime when schools are not in session, he added.

At Friday’s budget workshop, Chief Fuchs said he doesn’t talk about the department’s level of staffing, but said it is important for the public “to understand the implications of staffing.”

He pointed to a recent incident involving an intoxicated driver on Route 53. The incident tied up two patrol officers as well as the chief and lieutenant, along with two cruisers.

There were only two officers on the road that day, he said, and there were only two cruisers, “so the town was uncovered until we could get other officers to come in.”

The chief said surrounding towns’ police can be called to help as a stopgap, temporarily covering for Redding if another call should come in, until Redding officers have come back in for duty.

He said that on Friday he only had two officers on shift and one was sick, so another officer stayed over to the next shift, and then fatigue becomes an issue. And when there is a call for a domestic issue, two officers must respond, again leaving the town uncovered until this issue is resolved, if only two officers are on duty.

The chief said his goal is to return the department’s strength to its authorized level of 16. The chief said the area average of police officers per 1,000 population is 1.9; Redding’s average is 1.6 with 15 officers, its current complement, but two officers are at the Police Academy or still training with local officers, and one officer has medial issues, bringing the “actual” total to 12 for an average of 1.3.

As part of his budget request, the chief is asking that the department’s second in command, now a lieutenant, have his title changed to captain, a rank most area departments use for this executive officer position, he said. The change in rank does not bring a change in salary, the chief said.

He also talked about unfunded mandates, pointing to the need to now pay for an officer’s training at the Police Academy and for the in-service training the academy provides. There is also an overtime cost for training officers to use the Connecticut Online Law Enforcement Telecommunications system, the local police’s access to the State Police system. In addition, police are trained as first responders (MRTs or EMTs), and the state has significantly changed the number of hours to recertify, Chief Fuchs said.

Now there is mandatory videotaping of interviews the police do, and the newest mandate is that local police must also provide transcripts of the interviews.

Call volume is increasing and the complexity of cases is increasing, the chief said, adding that it can take hundreds of man-hours to investigate a case. His department, he said, has a proactive policy, making motor vehicle stops. “Our mere presence changes behavior,” he said.

The new equipment request in the budget is for five defibrillators for $11,000 to replace older models and $5,000 for a portable speed sign.

Police cars are not included in he department’s budget. They are purchased as needed when there is enough money in a special account made up of “side jobs.” The police charge a contractor for the use of a cruiser when used at a construction site or elsewhere. The officers who work these jobs are paid by the contractor.

On Monday, the police budget was reduced by $37,000 from the original proposal, including a reduction in the overtime account, the elimination of a part-time dispatcher and a decision not to pursue driveway improvements. This brings the proposed budget to $118,000, a 6.49% increase.

Park and Recreation

The Park and Recreation Department proposed a $968,394 budget that would be offset by estimated revenue of $694,500, for a net increase of 0.7%.

Rob Blick, park and recreation director, said he has reduced his estimate on attendance at some summer camps in estimating cost and is planning fewer bus trips because of reduced participation. He said the longer season at Topstone Park and rising season pass sales have resulted in a net decrease in the operating costs of the park and is reflected in his budget request.

A change in the Extended Day program is making it possible next fiscal year to sign up for the program on an as-needed basis.

Capital requests include permanent gym storage at an estimated cost of $100,000, which Mr. Blick said may cost more based on one quote he has received, and a building for field maintenance estimated at $30,000.

Highway Department

Jeff Hanson, highway superintendent, is asking for a $1,398,938 budget, 0.7% lower than the current budget.

Mr. Hanson said he eliminated guardrail work from his budget, and would get money from the road repair account, as well as “aggressively chase” insurance companies when a guardrail is hit.

Under new equipment, he is asking for plows and a side dump basket. In his capital requests, Mr. Hanson is asking for $600,000 for a six-bay aluminum addition to the front of the existing building to accommodate the larger trucks the department now owns. He is also asking for a new nine-ton dump truck to replace an aging truck.

The  Conservation Commission is asking for a $5,000 increase in open space management to take down trees at Gilbert Miller Park in Georgetown. The town’s highway superintendent will look at the trees to see if he has the equipment needed for the job. If not, David Pattee, commission chair, said the town would have to pay someone to do the work.

Mark Twain Library

The Mark Twain Library is requesting a grant of $436,000 from the town, a $13,000 increase over the current year. The amount would make the town’s contribution 65% of the library’s operating budget, the same as in the current fiscal year. The library’s proposed operating budget is $668,850.

The library is an association library, not a town department. The town contributes to the library’s operating budget with the rest coming from three major fund-raisers and the Annual Appeal.

 

Some of the department and library requests will be presented in more detail in future issues of The Pilot.

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