The Rotterdam Police Department wants to hire four officers to replace departing members of the force, but two Republican Town Board members could prevent it.
With the Town Board split between two Republicans and two Democrats, the department can’t move forward with the hires without at least one of the Republicans’ support — in addition to the expected support of the two Democrats.
The board has been split since Mike Viscusi, a Conservative who often voted with the Democratic town supervisor and deputy supervisor, resigned in October.
Republicans Joe Villano and Rick Larmour are expected to vote against the hires, and Supervisor Harry Buffardi and Deputy Supervisor Wayne Calder, both Democrats, are expected to vote yes.
“Over my objection last year, they already hired eight new officers,” Villano said. “There are three good reasons that this is absolutely not going to happen in the next calendar year.”
For one, according to Villano, the department is already too big, with its roughly $6 million budget making up more than a quarter of the town’s $22.45 million spending plan.
“Our budget has been set up strictly for the convenience and the comfort of those who work for the Police Department on Princetown Road,” he said. “When you already occupy the entire playing field, there’s no room for growth.”
Villano also said the town also can’t meet its current expenses, having had to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension costs from the state; and the split Town Board will be negotiating a new contract with the Police Benevolent Association this year.
“It’s going to be fairly rancorous,” he said of the negotiations. “I don’t want to put us in a position where we’re hiring when I don’t even know what the incoming patrolmen are making. It would be foolish.”
What’s foolish, according to Police Chief Jim Hamilton, is allowing the department to become any smaller when “the more significant crimes” are increasing.
“Taking this soft-on-crime approach, this anti-law-enforcement approach that some like to take, is really going to compromise our ability to protect the public,” he said, adding that overtime costs would increase without the hires.
The four hires would bring the department to 40 officers. Without them, the department dips into staffing levels it hasn’t seen since the 1980s, the police chief said.
“There’s additionally anticipated retirements in 2016, which would bring us to 33 officers, and that’s a level we haven’t seen since probably the ’70s,” he said.
Hamilton proposed hiring five officers in April, but since then, he said, two candidates took jobs with other departments.
“I think 41 is the number that best suits the needs of the community,” he said. “However, at this time, at least until the next academy, I would be comfortable with 40 officers. Overtime would obviously increase, but we can make do with 40 at this time.”
The Town Board will vote on the new hires — Dakota Stone, Jonathan Hughes, Desiree Sagendorf and Chrystal Stone, all of Rotterdam — at tonight’s meeting set for 7 at the Rotterdam Junction Fire Department. They would be full time and earn annual salaries of $48,005 starting July 14, when they would enter the police academy for about six months.
Hamilton said the officers would fill some vacancies in the department, which saw two officers resign in recent months and will have five officers retire by the end of this year.
Eight-year Officer Vincent Stone resigned in April after being charged with felony assault in October for his alleged role in an off-duty skirmish with Schenectady police officers who were trying to investigate a possible domestic incident in the city. Marc Case resigned in March nine months after being hired by Rotterdam to take a job with the state police.
Hamilton said Villano had proposed eliminating Case’s position while he was in the police academy, which “led him to choose to go in a different direction.”
The retiring officers are Officer Patty Mahar, Sgt. Jay Stearns, Sgt. Richard Dunsmore, Lt. Jason Murphy and Inv. Steven Manikas.
Villano further argued against the hires in saying the town has depleted the budgets of other departments where money would be better spent. In the Highway Department, for example, no money has been budgeted over the past two years for resurfacing roads.
“We have over 200 miles of town roads in Rotterdam,” he said. “We should be paving 20 miles of road every year.”
He also said the Police Department, without the new hires, would still be bigger than that of Glenville and Scotia combined, which together serve a population similar to Rotterdam’s — just under 30,000 people. Those departments employ 22 officers and 13 officers, respectively.
Hamilton, however, said he has cut millions in dollars from the department in his 14 years as chief, including 40 civilian staff positions. They include the 10 full-time dispatchers eliminated from the town budget with the opening of the countywide dispatch center last year and six paramedics.
And he said Rotterdam has far more crime than Glenville. In 2014, Rotterdam reported 917 index crimes, which include homicide, burglary, rape and assault, compared with 472 reported by Glenville, according to the Albany Crime Analysis Center.
“You can’t just base staffing levels on population alone,” he said.
The Town Board also will vote tonight on the promotions of Sgt. Jeff Collins to lieutenant and Officer Michael Alderdice to investigator, which would bring their annual salaries to $97,777 and $81,470, respectively.
This is the department’s second attempt at granting the promotions after Villano and Larmour voted them down in December.