Police budget is expected to go up

Chief Hautanen: Cruiser replacement, upgrading computers means more spending

WILTON — The Select Board is seeking places in the police department budget that might be reduced to accommodate anticipated promised pay raises in the coming year; it’s a task that may be impossible while maintaining the same amount of services and officers, according to Police Chief Brent Hautanen.

During a review of the police budget at a Select Board meeting Monday, Hautanen reported that he’s used approximately 41 percent of his annual budget of $647,000.

In the coming year, the town is anticipating a 3.5 percent raise for its police force, the second half of an agreed upon 7-percent increase that has been staggered over the this year and next. There are seven full-time officers, including the chief, plus three part-timers.

Select Board member Rick Swanson told Police Chief Brent Hautanen that it is a goal of his to retain a flat budget, and asked if there was any way that could be accomplished, taking into account the increase in pay.

“No,” replied Hautanen, simply. “It’s been cut to the bare bones for so many years, there’s not much fat to trim.” Usually, when the police department comes in under budget, it is due to not needing the full amount of overtime budgeted for the year, which is an unpredictable expense.

Select Board member Kermit Williams added that the only way he could see to reduce the police budget further, to accommodate a flat rate, would be to reduce services or personnel.

Hautanen added that, although he is under 50 percent of his budget at the half-way point of the year, there are some anticipated expenses that will inflate his budget in the latter half of the year, including outfitting a newly hired officer, purchasing a new cruiser laptop to replace the current one the department is using, and covering holiday pay.

Hautanen said he is also looking to see if there is any room in this year’s budget to help pay for updating the department’s computers, the majority of which run on Windows XP, which is a platform no longer supported by the state. Municipalities are expected to upgrade their systems by next year, said Hautanen.

Upgrading the computers will be an expected increase in next year’s budget, and it is also a year scheduled for a new cruiser replacement, Hautanen noted.

Swanson asked if putting off the cruiser replacement could be a way to keep the budget flat. The cruiser is a capital expense, said Hautanen, and is not reflected in the department budget. He did not recommend putting off the cruiser purchase, as it would likely put the vehicle due to be replaced at over 100,000 miles, which isn’t advisable for a police car.

“It’s an emergency vehicle,” Hautanen said. “If a highway truck breaks down, you have time to fix it. If it’s an emergency and you jump in the cruiser and it doesn’t start, you’re in trouble.”

Also, he said, he had put off a cruiser purchase in 2008 due to budgeting concerns, and it had eventually led to the necessity of requesting three new vehicle purchases in the course of three years in order to catch up.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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