The Schenectady Police Department is losing three commanders by Jan. 1, but the City Council will not reconsider the department’s budget to minimize that loss.
Remaining will be the public safety commissioner, two assistant chiefs, and a vacant police chief position that could be filled at any time.
Chief Mark Chaires formally asked the council, by letter, to restore a third assistant chief position to next year’s budget.
This year, the department has four assistant chiefs, as well as a chief and commissioner, but the council cut two assistant chiefs out of the 2013 budget.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield argued strongly on Chaires’ behalf, but the rest of the council shut her down.
“If we can’t run a police department with those four individuals — very seasoned people with a lot of experience — I take issue with that,” said Council President Denise Brucker.
Porterfield said Chaires wrote that he had found a way to restore an assistant chief position at no cost to the city, by removing other expenses from the police budget. But Brucker said she did not believe it.
“For someone to say it doesn’t cost the city money is ridiculous,” she said. “We are paying for pensions, we are paying for health care, we are paying a lot of money.”
The Daily Gazette did not receive a copy of the letter, and it was not clear whether Chaires had taken into account the cost of benefits as well as the normal salary.
But Porterfield said Chaires’ proposal should be taken seriously.
“He says it would have an impact on public safety,” she said. “Looking at what he has said, I think it’s something we could reconsider.”
Brucker refused, saying it would cost too much.
Porterfield shot back, “Well, he says it won’t. I think we should hear what he has to say.”
She got no support from the rest of the council. Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said the public safety argument was groundless, too. She noted that the change the council is making increases the number of patrol officers while decreasing command staff.
“It means more feet on the street. So as a public safety issue, we have more people out there than ever,” she said.
She added that if Chaires has found ways to cut other expenses from his budget, she would like to cut those items to reduce the city’s overall expenses — but not to increase command staff.
Council members also voted in committee to buy eight patrol cars and two vehicles for the evidence technicians, a purchase that was delayed all year because the police wanted top-of-the-line SUVs for the evidence technicians.
In response, council members had pushed for limits on where those cars could be driven — and discovered that the evidence technicians were driving city cars home every night, some as far away as Saratoga County.
When council members learned the police contract might require them to let evidence technicians take their cars home, they balked. The vote to buy new cars failed, 3-3.
Mayor Gary McCarthy later took steps to reduce some take-home privileges for city cars, and commanders proposed buying less-expensive SUVs for the evidence technicians.
Still, the council never took up the question of buying new cars. Finally, on Monday, McCarthy asked the council to reconsider, saying that the cost of maintaining the oldest cars in the fleet would cost upward of $87,000 next year — the same cost as one year’s payment for 10 new cars.
This time, the council informally approved the purchase without discussion. The city would pay $87,000 a year for four years for the cars.
The final vote will be held next Monday.
Council members also discussed, privately, the idea of changing the already approved tax increase for next year, Councilman Carl Erikson said.
McCarthy has asked them for a higher tax increase, which could be used to replenish the city’s savings accounts.
But no council member wanted to propose it, Erikson said, and so the issue was never placed on the agenda.