NASHUA — The outgoing police chief told officials this week that the city’s spending cap has resulted in major budget woes for the police department.
“We have been treading water for a decade, and in my opinion, that is not really the best way to do business,” said Andrew Lavoie, chief of the Nashua Police Department. “ ... The money we have right now is just to get by.”
The department is spending an average of $30,000 a week in overtime costs, and Lavoie is pleading with aldermen to increase the mayor’s proposed police department budget to prevent a deficit in the upcoming budget cycle.
The chief originally recommended a new budget of $31,830,112, however the mayor’s proposed spending plan for the police department is about $200,000 less. After shifting some of the expenses, Lavoie said his division still needs $113,000 more than what Mayor Jim Donchess is proposing.
“Everything we asked for is what we absolutely need,” he told the aldermanic Budget Review Committee.
Although the city’s spending cap was previously ruled unenforceable, but not invalid, by a superior court judge, Lavoie said the cap has devastated the progress of the police department.
One major homicide or criminal incident could be detrimental to the budget, according to the chief, who said there are no funds to help the department purchase state-of-the-art equipment or try to be more progressive. Providing detail for a sitting presidential visit can cost the department up to $20,000, he said, noting the upcoming primary election. In addition, the said the police overtime budget has been underfunded by about $500,000 each year.
“We literally have no flexibility in our budget whatsoever ... As chief of police, I find it ridiculous that we budget by attrition,” said Lavoie. “Quite frankly, we need to find a better way to fund our department than having to not hire the full staff that we are budgeted for.”
Deputy Chief Mike Carignan, who will replace Lavoie as chief when he retires later this year, said the department has struggled to hire a full force because it is genuinely worried there won’t be enough money to fund everything.
There are currently seven open positions, and two new officers will be hired next week, according to Lavoie, adding three other officers were hired within the past six months.
Alderman Ben Clemons said he would like to discuss with the mayor the possibility of returning the $113,000 Lavoie needs to continue operations without decreasing services.
“There are multiple ways that hopefully we can address this deficit,” said Clemons, who suggested that perhaps escrow money could be utilized.