BOS Reviews Department Budgets, Police Reiterate Request For More Officers

The Newtown Police Commission is throwing its weight behind an initial request to budget for two additional officers for the police department this coming fiscal year, stating that additional work from Connecticut’s Police Accountability Act is putting strain on the current workforce.

The Board of Selectmen, having received an overview of the proposed 2023-24 municipal budget last week, began its department by department review. Rosenthal, during the overall budget review, stated he cut the officers because while he felt they might be needed, with various pressures on the budget and on taxpayers’ pockets due to inflation, “this year was not the year.”

At the January 19 meeting, members of the commission along with Police Captain Bryan Bishop made their case for the extra officers. Commissioner Neil Chaudhary said the Police Accountability Act includes extra training and duties that “take away the ability to do what officers used to do.” One of the biggest areas of concern is the ability for officers to find extra time to do traffic enforcement, according to Chaudhary.

Chaudhary also pointed out that Connecticut has 20 percent more fatal crashes than they’ve had in the past, due to “minimal enforcement.”

“It’s not that the department doesn’t want to do traffic enforcement, but it doesn’t have the staff,” said Chaudhary. “Enforcement reduces crashes, it prevents them. There’s probably a lot more reasons to add two more officers.”

Commissioner Brian Budd said that he “understands the financial concerns of the town” and the commission “always wants to be fiscally responsible,” but there “are needs that the department would like to address in a more high quality manner.”

Budd said that in 2007-08, the department asked for two additional officers and received them, and for a brief period the town had 49 sworn officers. However, attrition made the number go back down to 47 and those two positions were never refilled.

Also pointing towards the Police Accountability Act, Budd said the act was “very labor intensive” for the department. He asked the BOS to realize that the amount of time for an average call for service for police officers has “increased dramatically due to de-escalation demands.”

“I’m all for a kinder, gentler police department, but it does take increased time,” said Budd.

He noted that the officers spend more time solving issues with neighbor disputes, assisting those struggling with addiction, and other issues, acting as “first responders” in many different situations.

“I feel a strong increase in manpower allocation would be a tremendous asset to the town and its citizens in regards to handling calls, mitigating issues, and making the public feel assured.

Selectman Ed Schierloh asked if there are any shifts that are not fully manned. Bishop responded that State Statute requires that all shifts be fully staffed, but it often requires overtime. Almost every day has a shift requiring overtime, he said, and there were 355 shifts filled through overtime over the past year.

Rosenthal noted that most of the overtime shifts are filled by officers voluntarily offering to fill the shift, but once every six weeks each officer has a mandatory order-in to fill a shift.

Bishop said the department is currently staffed at 45 officers, with two officers out on long-term injuries and one officer in training.

Budd noted that the officers working so much overtime is undesirable, as their critical thinking and clarity of mind is better when only working an 8-hour shift as opposed to a 12- or 16-hour shift.

Schierloh asked if calls for service had increased, to which Bishop said that they had “remained about the same,” but what had “dropped off is time for things like checks and motor vehicle stops.”

“In previous years officers had more time for pro-active policing,” said Bishop. “That time is diminished.”

Schierloh asked for the total costs of two extra officers, which Bishop replied was about $90K to $100K with benefits.

Selectman Maureen Crick Owen asked about the line item for police vehicles, which shows increases for the cost of vehicles.

Bishop said that the manufacturing costs have gone up, with the cost for a police cruiser increasing by $11,000 in the contractual rate the town pays for vehicles through the state. Bishop said it was important to maintain the fleet and generally the department gets three cars per year.

Rosenthal noted that one of the cars had been moved from the police budget into the capital and non-recurring fund.

The first selectman’s proposed police budget for 2023-24, without the two officers, is $7,806,206, a $286,684 or 3.81 percent spending increase over the 2022-23 adopted budget of $7,519,522.

Wages have increased 2.25 percent for officers by union contract. Civilian personnel also received a 2.25 percent increase in this budget. Wages and salaries for this year make up the largest part of the budget at a proposed $4,452,028, a $25,185 increase over last year’s amended budget of $4,426,844.

Fire Companies

The town’s five fire companies are asking for a 2.25 percent increase of $32,003 over their adopted 2022-23 budget of $1,422,576, for a proposed 2023-24 budget of $1,454,579.

Non union positions such as the fire marshals received a 2.75 percent increase reflected in this year’s budget; a full-time secretary and part-time fire marshal also each received a 2.75 percent salary increase. The overall increase to the salary line item is $6,005, increasing from $218,369 in the 2022-23 adopted budget to $241,435 in the proposed 2023-24 budget.

A requested fire administrator position was eliminated by Rosenthal as part of his putting together department requests into the proposed budget. The administrator position started as a proposed administrative assistant, according to Board of Fire Commissioners member Tim Whelan, and became more to help take some of the administrative load off other fire officials.

Rosenthal said that he felt the idea was compelling, but “the concept needs some work before we’ll throw money at it.”

Whelan said that he felt the fire companies came in with a “reasonable request,” that would not be “crazy anywhere else.” Rosenthal agreed, saying he did not make many edits to the fire companies’ request, other than the elimination of the afore-mentioned fire administrator and moving some items to capital and non-recurring.

The fire company budget saw small increases in a length of service awards program policy, increasing from $185,000 in 2022-23 to $205,000 in the proposed budget, a $5,000 increase from $20,000 to $25,000 for physicals, and an increase of $8,000 from $29,365 to $37,365 for equipment repairs.

There was a decrease in the truck maintenance line item from $83,400 to $69,510 in the 2023-24 proposed budget, aided by the capital and non-recurring fund.

Public Works

Public Works Director Fred Hurley said that the basis for much of the increase in his budget is “the commodities” such as fuel, as well as the town moving a final $250K from bonding each year into the town’s operating budget.

“Without that [the $250K for roads] the budget would only have a one or two percent increase, which is not even inflationary,” said Hurley.

The proposed 2023-24 Public Works budget is $9,019,919, a $381,416 or 4.42 percent increase over the 2022-23 adopted budget of $8,638,503. Without the increase in the highway budget, the public works budget would have increased $131,416 or 1.52 percent, according to the town’s proposed budget documents.

“It’s no mystery, it takes money to keep the project going,” said Hurley.

Schierloh said that “cutting roads catches up with you,” and Rosenthal agreed, saying that if the town spent $1 million on roads instead of $3 million per year, no one would notice at first but in a few years “we’d be chasing our tails again” to keep up.

Owen said that the state of the roads was one of the biggest issues with residents when she and Rosenthal first took office in 2017, and they made it a priority to get the town caught up.

Salaries and benefits are decreasing by $12,689 from the 2022-23 budget, going from $2,822,776 to $2,810,087, due to a decrease in the line item for the town engineer by $19,616, and the elimination of an assistant town engineer position for $84,050.

Diesel and gasoline are a large increase, going from $330,150 in the 2022-23 budget to $422,400 in the proposed 2023-24 budget, largely driven by inflation in the cost of fuel.

Hurley said a lot of the increases in costs are COVID-driven, and he’s hoping that the prices will stabilize, although he doubts they’ll go back down.

Parks & Recreation

The Parks & Recreation budget increased by $123,197, a 4.85 percent increase. The proposed 2023-24 budget is $2,669,754, while in 2022-23 the adopted budget was $2,546,557.

Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold said that her department requested and received a full-time clerk, the cost of which was partially covered by the elimination of two part-time positions.

“We looked through our part-time staff, and were able to find a way to make the cost back,” said Mangold, who said the full-time position will help efficiency in the office, and that the benefits and increased salary will keep an employee in that position instead of having it turn over and needing to do retraining of new employees.

Most positions in the department received 2.75 percent wage increases this year. The line item for full-time positions increased from $1,049,612 in the 2022-23 adopted budget to $1,116,476 in the 2023-24 proposed budget, a $66,864 or $6.37 percent increase. Of that, $38,000 was for the new position. Part-time wages decreased by $38,000, a 51.06 percent decrease. Other drivers to salary increases include the increase to minimum wage, as seasonal employees increased by $9,955, a 3.67 percent increase.

The department has added $11,700 to its contractual services line item, representing work being done at the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial. The maintenance at the memorial is new and Assistant Director of Parks Carl Samuelson said he would rather “experience this year, even if we struggle” rather than ask for more money now, to get a feel for the cost and labor impacts of the memorial.

The P&R budget has a $23,430 or 14.15 percent increase in grounds maintenance, increasing from $165,619 in the 2022-23 adopted budget to $189,049 in the 2023-24 proposed budget.

Assistant Director of Parks Carl Samuelson said that materials are up 15 to 16 percent, but the town did save money for an unused fertilizer application for the fields that the town did not use due to drought.

P&R Commission Chairman Clinton DePaolo said that the increases in the budget were mostly contractual and inflation-related.

“Rising costs put a strain on the department’s program, especially with the quality and quantity of maintenance,” said DePaolo. “The department has done a fantastic job with rising costs pinching them. The perception is that a lot of money goes to parks and recreation, but it is quite the investment compared to other communities.”

The department will be getting a new line painter in the capital non-recurring budget, at a cost of $25K. When the grass is cut, it removes the lines which have to be repainted, said Samuelson.

The current machine has seen two or three pump rebuilds, and parts are getting harder to find for the current painter.

“The one we have has more than seen its useful service life,” said Samuelson.

Samuelson said that his labor costs for line painting have doubled as he has to send two employees out with manual line painting machines instead of one.

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at [email protected]

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