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FinCom holds on request for half-year police position

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PEPPERELL — Police Chief Alan Davis has responded to Finance Committee questions about a fiscal year 2007 budget request he submitted that was 4.76 percent higher than the 3 percent cap imposed by the finance board.

At $111,080 above last year’s, the 2007 request includes purchasing three vehicles and replacing the computerized record-keeping system. It would also be used for a half-year salary for an 18th police officer that would fully staff the department for six months.

The vehicle request is for the third year of a two-two-three replacement rotation where used vehicles are either sold or recycled to other town departments, said the chief. The $175,000 records update will be brought before the Capital Programs Committee for recommendation to the finance board.

The half-year extra police officer position would restore a position from the late 1990s lost during a reorganization, Davis said.

Three years ago, the lieutenant’s position was left vacant by a retirement. Since then, Davis has promoted a sergeant to lieutenant and a patrolman to sergeant, leaving a vacancy at patrolman. The position was not included in the 2006 budget.

Davis sent a memo in December to town administrator Robert Hanson requesting the half-year position begin last month, but he said he never heard back. He said Hanson promised to take an informal poll of support for the proposal and eventually indicated a lack of majority approval.

”So we’re waiting for fall (of 2006, part of the 2007 fiscal year) and I don’t know the reason none supported (the idea),” Davis said.

This week selectmen told Davis he could promote a sergeant to fill the lieutenant’s position or add a patrolman, but not both, said Hanson.

Acting Finance Committee Chairman Diane Gaspar said selectmen haven’t come back to the committee with a decision so the proposal would remain in discussion mode. Finance and Personnel Board member Burke Bero said he hadn’t seen “any persons” put before the Personnel Board.

”How are you coping?” Gaspar asked Davis.

The department is operating at minimum staff level on some shifts, the chief said. He’s wanted a supervisor on duty 24/7 and that the overnight shifts are staffed by the least experienced officers. By creating a fourth sergeant, he has reduced one overnight shift to two police officers.

”Overtime is a problem,” Davis said. “If we had two patrolmen and a sergeant as in 2002 we wouldn’t have to call in overtime when someone is (working) lockup.”

Finance board member Stephanie Cronin noted that Davis’ memo indicated Pepperell’s ratio of police to population is below standard. She asked if the 18th position would eliminate the problem.

Some towns have 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents, said Davis. Using a population figure of 12,000, he said Pepperell’s ratio is 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents.

”I feel comfortable with 18 people and 1.5 is workable,” Davis said.

The town is divided in two sectors during daytime hours, he said. One sergeant does court duty, and in the evening, the downtown becomes a third sector.

”Without the officer we would have two overnight shifts with two people,” Davis said.

Finance board member Shaun Cummings called attention to $40,000 worth of overtime in Davis’ budget for the remainder of FY06. He asked what overtime would be generated with an additional officer.

Davis estimated an overtime budget of $225,000 to $228,000, and he will probably ask for a transfer of funds at the end of May. He said overtime includes court time, training and required incident command classes for Homeland Security.

”Like the state, we’re required (to do training), but we’re not funded,” he said.

The rest of the overtime includes $30,000 for holiday pay, $28,000 for vacation pay, $12,000 for court time, $8,000 for personal time and bereavement, $5,000 for prisoner watch and $15,500 for miscellaneous overtime. The lowest amount of overtime is sick time at $4,000.

”I figured the budget at $200,000, not $225,000,” Davis said. “There isn’t much wiggle room. I may be able to (get by) with special town meeting small transfers. Obviously, I don’t want a reserve fund transfer.”

”What role does the auxiliary play?” asked Finance Committee member John Croteau.

The volunteer police auxiliary rides with officers in the evenings, said Davis, but does not work overnight. Auxiliary Police Capt. David Querze is limiting ride along because his staff is short four or five officers from the normal complement of 20.

”Will the new person need another car or uniforms?” Cummings asked.

Davis said he has not included uniform cost in the budget calculation, although officers each receive $1,250 per year for clothing. The total uniform budget allowance is $21,250 per year for the current 17 officer staff.

”I’d like input from selectmen (prior to making a budget recommendation),” Croteau said.

”We’re all waiting,” Gaspar said.

”We’ll ask them,” said Croteau . “It looks better is we can work it all out before town meeting.”

”Maybe that’s the place for debate,” said Davis.

Gaspar asked if the subject of the extra person came up during contract negotiations.

”I don’t participate,” Davis said. “I don’t know for sure. Selectmen do.”

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