WEARE - A report studying the amount of overtime used by the police department has resulted in the elimination of the department's K-9 unit and more changes are expected to bring the overtime numbers in line with the budget.
In the spring of 2012, the board of selectmen asked Municipal Resources Inc. to conduct a study to determine why the police department's overtime line was repeatedly exceeding the budget. That report in its final form was released to the public earlier this month.
The overspending and underbudgeting led to deficits in the line item ranging from $109,798 in 2009 to $73,596 in 2011. Though some of those deficits were reduced by surpluses in other parts of the department's budgets, for the last two years the department's total budget was overspent.
"Overtime for years has been a question at budget time," said Town Administrator Naomi Bolton, "and we struggled to wrap our heads around what was happening."
In order to get out of the habit of deficit spending, said Bolton, the town asked MRI to take a look at the department to see where the money was being spent. MRI came back with a number of recommendations, some of which have already been put in place, while others will take longer.
The immediate change that has come about due to the report is that the department has discontinued its K-9 program, which MRI called expensive to maintain and pointed out that other local communities have dogs available.
But among the changes that will take longer to sort out are scheduling and staffing. The department has officers working four days on, three days off. There are very few part-time officers, and that means when a full-time officer gets sick or takes a day off, another full-time officer working overtime has to cover the shift. The MRI report also pointed to a lack of policy regarding sick time and noted that some officers were using all of their sick days in short periods of time.
"We're going to have to work out a lot of these issues at the negotiating table with the police union," said Bolton. "These are changes that we want to make gradually, not all at once."
The report also states that the town needs to establish a policy that delineates when a police officer is required for road construction, and when flaggers or even cones can be used instead. That ordinance is currently being drawn up, said Bolton.
"Some positive things have come out of this study," she said. "We just need some time to put them into practice."
- - - - - - - -Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.