2017-02-15 / Front Page

New officer on hold as village deals with overage

By TORY JONES

BELLOWS FALLS — The Bellows Falls Police Department will have to wait until July to add a 10th police officer due to budget concerns.

The decision is based on the year-to-date budget status discussed at a recent joint budget meeting, Rockingham and Bellows Falls Interim Municipal Manager Shane O’Keefe said on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at a regular Bellows Falls Board of Trustees meeting.

Looking at “where we are in the budget this year,” O’Keefe has temporarily halted any further action on hiring a police officer, he said on Monday.

“It’s a tight budget, it’s a tough budget,” he said.

Although the village of Bellows Falls has made strides toward having two officers on duty at all times, adding a 10th officer to the police force at this time would create about a $52,000 budget overage, he said.

Between now and this summer, the village may not have two officers on duty at all times, “but we’ll do all we can to make that happen, from a safety standpoint,” O’Keefe said.

Police and Fire Chief Ron Lake attended the meeting on Tuesday, and said he supports the municipal manager’s recommendation.

Lake has made “some adjustments and realignments” to continue having two police officers on duty as often as possible. Part-time officers will be used in an effort to avoid overtime as much as possible, he said.

“I assure you, I am trying,” Lake said.

The BFPD’s goal, since last August, has been to have two officers on duty at all times. Lake said he has been meeting with the municipal manager twice a week for the last four weeks to see how to give the municipality “the best bang for your buck,” and using part-time staff saves the village money, Lake said.

The possibility of adding a 10th officer is “off the table” for now until the start of the new budget cycle in July, O’Keefe said.

Using the services of part-time officers would have an added cost of about $27,000, with the department’s attempt to have a second officer on at nearly all times, he said.

The village is just beginning to head into its budget discussions for Fiscal Year 2018. A lot of that budget has to do with departments under the police chief’s supervision, O’Keefe said.

The current year-to-date overage in the budget was about $70,600 as of Feb. 8, O’Keefe said. Part of that is roughly $20,000 due to the change-over of municipal managers, O’Keefe said.

He has looked through this year’s budget and found “easy savings” of about $30,000, by cutting costs, pricing a police vehicle $4,000 less than expected, and holding off on certain types of vehicle maintenance, leaving a deficit for the village of roughly $41,000, he said.

Any further cuts at this point would involve service cuts of “hours or people,” he said.

However, part of that $41,000 could be recouped through selling off unused or surplus equipment, he said. He also said he is hoping to not create an impact to municipal services.

Lake has assembled a list of surplus items, such as a furnace, that could be sold to offset that overage.

The trustees will begin FY2018 budget discussions later this month, with the first meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28.

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