New Ipswich residents demand no cuts for police

  • Budget Committee Chair Brian Somero listens to feedback during a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Selectmen David Lage argues against the proposed Budget Committee budget during a public hearing on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 6:4PM

Proposed cuts to the police department dominated the public hearing on New Ipswich’s proposed budget, with a roomful of residents rally support for the department until the Budget Committee agreed to abandon their own budget and support the one put forth by the Select Board.

New Ipswich has a municipal budget committee, which may take advice from the Select Board and department heads, but is ultimately responsible for setting the budget. 

Dissension was present from the start, with Jay Hopkins, who holds a seat on both the Select Board and Budget Committee, sitting in the audience with his fellow Select Board members instead of at the table with the Budget Committee, in protest.

“I could not endorse what they’re presenting. It’s just wrong and I won’t be part of it,” said Hopkins.

The police budget was slashed under the proposed Budget Committee budget. In 2017, the police department budget was $679,416. This year, the budget committee was proposing a budget of $530,402.

The Select Board, on the other hand, proposed a budget of $705,742 – a difference of over $175,000. This was also the bulk of the difference between the two board’s final budget line, which was about $177,000.

Select Board Chair David Lage told the board that as the Select Board had created a budget that was $40,000 lower than last year’s budget, the police department was not an appropriate place to make cuts.

The majority of the cut came from cutting expenses associated with an unfilled officer position, which the department has been unable to keep staffed.

The cuts also included a downgrade of the currently filled Lieutenant position to a pay rate more consistent with a Sargent, based, the committee said, on job description, and cutting the police administrator from a full-time position to 20 hours a week. 

The budget did include raises for the town’s three patrolmen, based on feedback that keeping officers was difficult at the town’s rate of pay.

Residents, however, were not in agreement with essentially cutting a position, whether or not it was currently filled.

Resident Bob Smith asked if the department was still actively pursuing an additional officer and if the chief of police still felt one was necessary.

“If I didn’t feel the need for an additional officer, I wouldn’t request one,” replied Police Chief Tim Carpenter.

Budget Committee member Alan Doyle attempted to justify the cuts by saying he’d like to see the position filled before budgeting for it, with both himself and Budget Committee member Danny Heath saying they weren’t against a new officer, but members of the crowd found this argument illogical. 

Deaton argued that cutting the funding made it impossible for the department to hire an officer in the middle of the year, and that no one could reasonably expect a new hire to wait around for months until a new budget was passed.

Ambulance director Daryl Oja agreed, saying he didn’t want to “tie [the police chief’s] hands” when it came to filling that position by defunding it. 

The crowd and committee also clashed over other cuts to the department.

Police Administrative Assistant Mary Fortier told the committee that her workload was impossible to complete in a 20-hour window, and that when her predecessor was working on a part-time basis, it was for budgetary reasons, not because of a lack of workload.

“I don’t think you know what that job consists of. And if you’d called, or asked, I could have told you what I do day-to-day, but I wasn’t given that courtesy,” said Fortier.

Carpenter also protested the cut in pay for the Lieutenant's position, saying that the Committee didn’t have the authority to essentially demote one of his officers, despite the committee clarifying that they were not requiring a demotion in rank, just cutting the pay.

“That position was changed in 2005, it was not a few years ago,” said Carpenter.

Budget Committee Chair Brian Somero tried to bring up other issues where he saw padding in the budget, including paying officers overtime on weekends if they had taken vacation time during the week, and the fact that Carpenter drives a cruiser to and from the department, with gas covered by the town, but these issues found little traction with the crowd, which at that point had started to prompt the committee to abandon their own budget in support of the proposed Select Board budget.

The committee waffled on whether or not to accept the Select Board’s budget wholesale, with Doyle saying he would like to review that budget, and Heath claiming he had not seen the Select Board’s budget in its entirety before that night – though Lage clarified that the board had been given individual department budgets throughout the process. Somero questioned if the crowd saw no merit at all in the Budget Committee proposal, but with the bulk of the difference between the two lies with the police department cuts, and little other discussion occurring during the hearing, no one from the audience offered support for keeping other trims.

Somero himself at one point asked if the Budget Committee should simple support the Select Board’s proposal, saying he knew “very, very well” that if the Budget Committee did not restore the police budget, that it was likely to be amended at the town’s deliberative session.

Eventually, though he had not been sitting at the table with the committee, Hopkins made a motion for the board to support a budget final line of $2,350,650.

“That’s the Select Board budget,” Somero clarified, after checking the number.

“Bing, bing, bing,” replied Hopkins. 

Heath seconded the motion, and the committee passed it. 

The town will hold its deliberative session on Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Mascenic Regional High School, 175 Turnpike Road. The budget and warrant articles will be discussed and finalized.