By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — The fire and police chiefs have presented budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year that are both at least 4% higher than the current year.
Police Chief Colin McAllister presented a budget request to the Board of Finance as budget workshops began last month. He proposed a $7.7 million budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which would increase department spending by $359,007 or about 4.8% from this fiscal year.
The majority of the increase in the proposal came from increases of $150,821 for salaries, $75,000 for overtime and $74,000 for a full-time social worker. The increase would bring spending on payroll and overtime to $6.1 million and $725,000, respectively. The social worker position would come to $104,000.
McAllister said the payroll increases are due to contractual increases as well as an addition of a 59th police officer to be school resource officer at the request of the Board of Education. The new officer’s salary would be shared by the school board and the borough, he said.
“That position was removed half-way through the last year after speaking with the City Hill Middle School,” McAllister said. “Speaking to the board of education, it was requested that the position be reassigned to City Hill half way through the school year due to a large amount of issues from disciplinary issues, general delinquent behavior from students returning from covid.”
Payroll has gone up due to contractual increases. A lot of the overtime that the department has received is refundable through grants as well as some that is reimbursed through town agencies and other programs according to McAllister.
The police department is requesting an increase in the new social worker from eight hours to 40 hours per week. The borough previously had an agreement with the Naugatuck-based Stokes Counseling Services to work with the police department. The current budget included $30,000 this fiscal year for counseling services to work with police.
“The social worker would actually follow up on calls and instances where officers thought that it would be a benefit that occurred from the police officers encountered out in the field,” McAllister said. “By increasing this to 40 hours a week, I would envision that this would be something where the social worker would be a co-response model. It’d be actually going out, accompanying a police officer, not self dispatching but accompanying the police officer to certain instances.
“There is a lot of mental health trouble out there that falls between the cracks and this helps with it,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said.
Board of Finance Chairman Daniel Sheridan requested the McAllister to get a measurement of the effectiveness of the social worker program.
Fire Chief Paul Russell presented his budget that same evening and is requesting a $4.8 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which would increase spending by $213,270 or 4.57% from this current year.
The majority of increase in the proposal came from increases of $168,482 for overtime, $18,000 for protective clothing and $4,529 for payroll. The increase would bring spending on overtime and protective clothing to $1.29 million and $66,000, respectively. Payroll would come to $3.19 million.
Russell said the payroll increase is because of two fire officials received raises.
During last year’s budget workshops, Russell informed the finance board that he estimated the fire department would have three firefighters retire and three others resign. This year three retired and there were eight resignations. The department is going to be way over in overtime this year, according to Russell.
“Every time a firefighter leaves, his empty position is backfilled with overtime until we get a replacement,” Russell said. “What that typically means is we have to send somebody to the CT fire academy, that’s contractual and we backfill their spots with overtime until they get trained and they can go on shift.”
Fire officials are estimating that one more firefighter will retire and five others will resign to go to other departments this year. The department will have a surplus from the payroll account because of many firefighters’ departure but it’s not going to cover the overtime, according to Russell.
Hess said he knew that the overtime budget has nothing to do with management but rather the contract. The borough is working on it and making progress, he added.
Sheridan said this is appalling and disgusting that the fire department is loosing people right and left, especially after spending a lot of money to train them in the fire academy.
“As far as I’m concerned, these young people have absolutely no ethics. They train on our dollar and they split. To me that’s a totally unethical move and we shouldn’t really have that for employees,” Sheridan said. “Why can’t we just with overtime and not hire anybody new until this bologna stops?”
Russell said they can’t run simply on overtime because it becomes unsafe and is unhealthy.
“There’s a broken system here that needs to be fixed and needs to be fixed fast,” Sheridan said. “This has been going on way too long.”
“We have one of the lowest salaries and we have one of the worst retirement packages,” Russell said. “As much I’m frustrated with people, I don’t blame them. Everybody does what’s best for their family.”
The finance board will have a final review in April and two reviews by the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and the Board of Finance in May.