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Panel cuts spending for police vehicles

STONINGTON — The Board of Finance cut $281,200 from the proposed 2014-15 municipal budget Wednesday night, and it plans to cut $1.4 million more. Deliberations will continue March 19 at the police station at 7 p.m.

Without cutting the budget, the tax rate would rise by $1.46 per $1,000 of property value. The Board of Finance set a goal of holding the increase to 80 cents, or 4 percent, which would put the tax rate at $20.68. At that level, a Stonington property owner whose house is appraised at $250,000, and assessed at $175,000, would pay $3,619.

“We have a serious problem with the budget because it’s way high,” said Chairman John O’Brien. “Most of the issue is in the CIP (capital improvement program) funds in that we have a huge increase over last year, so I guess most of what we’re going to have to do is cut that back.”

The board first examined the police department’s request for $180,000 for five new cars.

“Can we do with fewer cars?” O’Brien asked.

Police Capt. Jerry Desmond said, “I think the only thing to keep in mind here is that the replacement system that we use in the PD does keep the vehicles up to snuff so they’re able to respond to emergencies. It keeps all of the maintenance down.”

Desmond also noted that the department makes money with the cars when construction or utility companies hire officers to park their car near road construction sites and handle traffic issues.

“I’d like people to keep in mind the fact that our program with the outside work that goes on the construction sites, almost, in some years at least, almost paid for the vehicles in the past,” he said.

Instead of cutting cars from the budget, Desmond suggested eliminating a proposed expansion of the police station parking lot from the department’s capital budget. He also offered up a message board, which could have been used to alert the town in the event of an emergency. Both items were cut.

Board member Sandy Grimes suggested that the police department’s cars could handle more miles. “Cars are made to go a heck of a lot more than 75,000 miles,” he said.

Board member June Strunk agreed with Grimes. “Police departments all over the country are looking at increasing the mileage on their cars. They’re just made differently than they were 20 years ago,” she said, although some in the audience disputed that.

Grimes added, “We need to whack these budgets if we’re going to get it down. To get a reasonable budget, I think they should do with maybe two (new) cars this year.”

Mel Olsson, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, told the board that more cars means a greater ability to earn extra money at construction sites. Although the new cars are used to replace older cars, he said, the police planned on keeping one extra car this year to help the department earn money.

“Last year, we didn’t have enough cars to support all the jobs on the road,” he said. “They pay for themselves in the long run.”

The finance board cut $60,000 from the car request, which is the base cost of two patrol cars. Board members also cut $50,000 from the budget line for dispatchers’ salaries, because they said the state would pay the department $50,000 for dispatch costs later this year. If the state does not give that money to the town, board members said they would return the money to the budget.

In the Department of Public Works budget, the board cut $53,200 to be used for the purchase of new trucks

First Selectman Edward Haberek offered to cut $45,000 from the funds used for government advertisements in the newspapers. The town pays to advertise in two different papers, and finance board members recommended that he advertise in only one. Haberek said he would advertise only in The Westerly Sun only, which he said costs $18,000 per year.

Board members reduced a proposed increase in the salary of Vincent Pacileo III, the director of administrative services. Pacileo, who is receiving $85,031 now, requested an increase to $93,000 after conducting a salary analysis that showed $93,000 was the bottom of the going rate for similar positions in the area. Haberek cut that request to $89,500, and the board reduced that by another $2,000. That would still leave Pacileo with a raise of nearly $2,500, or about 3 percent.

The board retained several items on the capital list, including $50,000 for an architect for the K-12 Building Committee to examine solutions to the town’s aging elementary schools. They also agreed to pay $18,000 for a generator for the Stonington Free Library, which would allow the library to pump water out of its basement during power outages. The cost includes a 25 kilowatt propane generator plus installation.

Board members will continue deliberations on the proposed budget on Wednesday. Although department heads won’t be asked to come in with suggested cuts, some members suggested it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider potential cuts before the next meeting.

“They should have a list, just in case,” said member Dudley Wheeler.

Residents can weigh in on the budget at the public hearing on Thursday, April 10, at Stonington High School at 7 p.m.

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