By Dan Hust
LIBERTY A meeting this past Monday didn’t resolve budget disagreements between the Village of Liberty and its police department, though both sides maintain their willingness to continue discussions.
Police Chief Rob Mir’s original appropriations request to the village for the 2011-2012 fiscal year was $2.268 million, up from last year’s, though he and Mayor Richard Winters disagree as to how much higher it really is.
Winters said it was around $250,000 higher, while Mir pointed out the village had settled a contract last July with the department’s union, the PBA, committing it to expenses totalling about $2.13 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal year thus putting the increase closer to $140,000.
Regardless, at the first budget meeting for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Mir said he cut his $2.268 million appropriations request by close to $25,000 in equipment, utilities and matching grants funds, then another $25,000 by participating in a retirement savings program.
PBA President Steven D’Agata arrived Monday night to the budget workshop with approval from his 19 union members representing the entire department, save for the chief to offer a deferment of the contractually-guaranteed three percent raises due to be handed out this coming fiscal year.
In exchange, the PBA wanted a guarantee of no layoffs for that year.
Thus, said Mir (who also volunteered to forego a raise this year), the initial appropriations request was shaved by nearly $95,000.
But the board didn’t accept those terms that night, warning that layoffs may be inevitable.
“We explained to them we are still $600,000 in the hole, so that’s not going to help us,” recalled Village Trustee Luis Alvarez, referencing the deficit the village is facing as a whole.
Mir said the board wanted another $70,000 cut.
“I don’t have $70,000 to give back,” he remarked.
Neither does he feel he can afford the layoff of even one person in the 20-man department (17 officers and three civilian dispatchers). He pointed out the department’s 24/7 operations, the need to monitor 30 sex offenders and 52 parolees living near four schools, and the escalating costs of fuel and retirement/health benefits.
But Mayor Richard Winters doesn’t think Mir’s taken note of the recent vote to shutter the village court in an attempt to save money.
“I just think they’re not listening to what the public’s trying to say… that they don’t have the money,” Winters explained. “… We [the board] realize that the Village of Liberty, in these economic times, can’t withstand a tax increase.
“We have one of the best police forces in the state,” he added. “It’s not a matter of not getting along with them. It’s about not being able to afford them anymore.”
Mir disagrees, saying it’s the board that needs to listen to the public, whom he believes would be more than willing to shoulder the two percent tax increase it would take to cover that $70,000 the board wants from his department.
“A two percent tax increase on a $75,000 home would be about 38 more dollars on a tax bill,” estimated D’Agata, agreeing with Mir that the public would pay that in order to ensure prompt, professional police services.
But the PBA’s desire to have no layoffs for the next year has also proved a sticking point.
“I don’t want any layoffs either,” said Alvarez, himself a police officer with the county Sheriff’s Office. “… But we can’t keep taxing and taxing and taxing.… My goal is to have no layoffs, but I’m not going to raise taxes.”
The police department, of course, is not the only department seeking an increase in appropriations, but officials said the union representing the rest of the village workers, CSEA, did not show up at Monday’s meeting. Those workers are guaranteed a four percent raise this year.
So the village has a lot of ground to cover before settling on a budget by May 1, and this Monday’s regular board meeting will likely feature serious discussion about the fiscal situation. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. at the village hall.
In the meantime, both D’Agata and Alvarez confirmed their groups want to work something out.
“The priority of the Liberty Police PBA is the safety of both its members and the people who live in, work in and visit the Village of Liberty,” said D’Agata. “The loss of any personnel in the police department would be disastrous to the safety of everyone in the village.”
“They are working with us. They’re trying their best,” affirmed Alvarez. “It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to do our best, too.”