Chief proposes 12 percent budget increase

Spending plan calls for restoration of three officer positions

NAUGATUCK — Police Chief Christopher Edson presented a budget proposal Monday night that would restore three officer positions and increase department spending by 12 percent.

The proposed 2016-17 spending plan is about $7.3 million, an increase of $790,800 over the police department’s current budget.

The largest increase is approximately $420,000 in regular payroll.

Edson, who presented the plan to borough officials during a budget workshop, said the proposal includes restoring three officer positions to get the department back up to 59 officers. The positions weren’t funded in the current budget.

The borough and police union approved a new contract in December. Under the terms of the contract, the starting salary for each of the officers, if they were new hires, would be about $58,000, Edson said.

The new deal also changed step increases for officers.

Under the old agreement, officers received an increase in their pay for each step, with a cap of $68,414. Moving forward, officers now have a cap of $74,000, but it takes them longer to reach it, Edson said.

“They were given a larger increase than they would have gotten had they gone to arbitration,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said. “We determined that the cost of that was about $400,000. We also determined that, in the big picture, they made some major concessions on their health care and the savings on the health care far exceeded the wage increase. So it was basically a trade of wages for health care.”

Hess added the union agreed that future retirees will be in the high deductible health care plan, as well. This was an additional savings for the borough, which will pay off in the future, he said.

“It was flat out a trade of short term for long term and the long-term savings outweigh the short-term costs. But this number is a significant number in the short term,” Hess said.

The proposed budget also includes an $110,000 increase in overtime, and $166,000 more for retirement payouts for anticipated retirements.

Edson said the department won’t need as much of an increase in overtime if the borough funds the three officer positions.

Sgt. Colin McAllister, president of the police union, added that restoring the three positions would also increase morale. He said the average patrolman worked 20 to 22 mandated shifts of overtime last year. Without a full staff, he said, officers weren’t able to focus on larger enforcement issues.

A college degree is now required to advance in rank and more officers have shown an interest in pursuing a criminal justice degree, Edson said. The proposed budget would increase the school allowance fund, which reimburses officers for criminal justice courses, by $70,000 to $115,000.

The only area in the budget that had a significant decrease was the gas and oil line item, which went down by $26,460. This was due to the worldwide decrease in oil prices, Edson said.

Edson acknowledged that the budget proposal has large increases, but said that the impact would help offset future costs.

“It’s not a particularly happy tale I have told today, but it’s an honest tale. While there is a financial impact this year I think we see some results going forward, such as lower insurance premiums and things like that,” Edson said.

Finance Board member Andrew Bottinick agreed.

“We can make the argument that we are not just kicking the can down the street. We are taking a proactive approach to save you money down the road,” Bottinick said.