In spite of impassioned pleas by police officers to increase the size of their force, the Town Council held fast to its plan to keep the mill rate at its current 27.77, as it approved a total budget of $47,368,137 at its meeting last night.
The recommendations the council approved by unanimous vote were overwhelmingly on the town side, with many of the cuts what Finance Director Anthony Esposito termed “nickel-and-diming” relative to the overall size of the budget package that will go to referendum in May.
To reduce costs, the council agreed to delay its consideration of the hiring of a secretary in the department of Parks & Recreation until Oct. 1. The town will continue to bind state-mandated publications in paper, rather than send them out for professional binding. These two adjustments saved the town a total of $14,000, and many cuts were also small in size.
Also of help in maintaining the current mill rate was the news last week that North Branford will likely receive more than $100,000 from the state in educational-cost-sharing revenues, as well as an increased use of and one appropriation for capital improvements from the town’s fund balance.
But the police officers stole the show at the council meeting, with Chief of Police Matthew Canelli joining officers in a request for two officers to bring the forceto 24 from its present total of 22 sworn officers. He said that when two officers retired as expected by the end of the year the police department "will almost have to lock the door."
“We are so underfunded,” said Officer Anthony DeLuise, who serves as president of the local police union. “We don’t want to see a cop hurt, a citizen hurt. There is no one patrolling the streets for hours at a time. We have a severe concern for the safety of the citizens."
He, among others, noted that at midnight the town has as few as two officers on the road and that, for the majority of that time, the men operate without administrative supervision.
Patrol Officer Timothy Cunningham, who has served on the force for two years, told the council members that when he leaves his home he says to his wife “Good-bye” rather than “See you later,” because, he remarked, there are police officers even in small towns who do not make it home.
“Please get behind us. Help us out,” he said.
If the pleas went unheeded by the town council in the budget it adopted last evening, the pleas did not go unheard.
Councilman Rose Marie Angeloni pointed out that the request for additional officers came to the council late in the budget cycle rather than late in February when the department first submitted its budget to the council members. However, she acknowledged that the town needed to begin a dialogue with the police department concerning the size of its force.
“I think we need to open a dialogue,” Angeloni said. “We need a more detailed plan.”
Deputy Mayor Alfred D. Rose commended the the officers for their professional presentation, even acknowledging that, “You probably sold your position.” Still, he said that, for himself, ongoing negotiations with the police union put him in the position of “being in no hurry on new hires” until the benefit packages the officers receive come in line with, as he put it, “the world we live in today.”
Lamenting expenditures and revenue sources broadly, Councilman Vincent Caprio said, “The track we are on is unsustainable. Our state is going to be a ghost town. This state has to change the way it operates and how it taxes,” the councilman said.
Editor's note: This article was updated to correct that the Town Council chose not to defer the hiring of a public works employee, thereby reducing the amount of savings from cuts from $25,000 to $14,000.