The Gloversville Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a 2017 budget that increases spending by nearly $1 million while decreasing property taxes by 2 percent.
The budget came in well under the state tax cap, at $17.2 million, but it was $820,000 more than 2016’s budget of $16.38 million. The 2017 property tax rate will stand at $20.64 per $1,000 of assessed property value. This year’s rate was $21.06.
Next year’s budget also calls for using $923,000 of the city’s fund balance, which stands at $6.5 million, according to Mayor Dayton King.
The budget includes funding to hire four additional police officers and one support employee for the police department. The move came after a departmental staffing assessment earlier this year and pressure from King to bolster the police force.
The council last week approved hiring three additional patrolmen, a detective, and a clerk, said King. He added that the total cost of the new hires will be somewhere around $385,000, and the money will come out of the city’s fund balance.
King said he’s seen extensive support among city residents for hiring additional police, especially at a recent holiday parade hosted by the city.
“I really haven’t heard one person ever say that we have too many cops,” said King, who estimated he spoke to around 100 people at the parade. “Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but if we can’t keep our people safe … the rest of it doesn’t matter.”
Gloversville Police Chief Mark Porter said he conducted a staffing assessment soon after he became chief in February, as part of the 2017 budget process. That assessment used a Department of Justice model that focused on the department’s workload, he said.
“I decided to conduct a staffing assessment based on our workload,” said Porter. “We came up with the justification to ask for more officers, so we put that in the budget.”
The council voted to approve the hires in a 4-3 vote. Fifth Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli said he voted against the hires because, according to an estimate by city Finance Commissioner Bruce Van Genderen, the additional employees would deplete the city’s fund balance over time.
“It would push us to a negative balance within three to four years, so that was my main reason [for opposing the police hires],” said Zarrelli. “We have to look out for the whole city as opposed to just one department.”
Van Genderen could not be reached for comment.
King agreed with Van Genderen’s assessment and said city officials are looking to renegotiate several city contracts to avoid draining the fund balance.
“If all things stay the same, we’re going to be in real bad shape in 2020-2021,” King said. “Where we’re looking to change that is with some of the city contracts.”
One of the main contracts he expects the city to renegotiate is with the city’s fire department, which is bloated with overtime allowances, he said. The department’s annual contract could be cut by $300,000 to $400,000, he said.
The fire department’s contract with the city has been expired for four years, King added.
“I don’t want any firefighter to lose their job, and in all honesty, none have to,” said King. “But we need to right-size our fire department and live within our budget.”
King said the city is well-covered, between the fire department, mutual aid agreements with surrounding departments and volunteer firefighters in the city.
“We’ll also be lobbying New York State for more state aid,” he said. “It’s really arbitrary and capricious the way they decide who gets more money.”
King said adding police staff will free up the police department for more proactive drug operations in the community and will enable them to tackle a backlog of tasks, including more than 200 outstanding warrants that need to be served.
“What we really unfortunately do most of the time is run from call to call,” said King, noting especially the prevalence of domestic violence and disorderly conduct calls. “When we want to be sitting at a known drug dealer’s house or do proactive policing, we get called away to do that stuff.”
Porter said that, depending on the availability of officer candidates and how many are able to enroll in the police academy for January, he hopes to have the additional officers trained and on the street by next summer. There’s also the possibility, he said, of lateral transfers by qualified officers from other police agencies in the area, which would get them on the streets even sooner.
“We plan to increase the staffing of our patrol platoons. We plan on having more officers on the street, and by adding a detective, we’ll be able to increase our drug investigations,” said Porter. “We’ll have more flexibility with scheduling if something happens to one of our officers, such as leave, an injury or a family emergency, that gives us a buffer to make sure we still maintain a police presence for our community.”
Porter said the department has 31 sworn officers: 20 patrol officers, four uniformed sergeants, two detectives, one detective sergeant, one lieutenant, two captains and the chief.
Reach Gazette reporter Daniel Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.
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