In village, police overtime costs exceed budget

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With two months left in the fiscal year, the Southampton Village Police Department has already exceeded its overtime budget by more than 60 percent, an additional $100,000 in police spending.

Several out-of-work members of the department, including those injured and suspended, and an initial overtime allocation that did not reflect historical costs were among many reasons village officials offered for the excess spending, which likely will be covered by unanticipated revenue.

In a village that carries no debt except a bond issued to pay for the police station that opened in 2001, overspending is not usually a big concern, but the overtime issue raises questions about the village’s fiscal strategies. Still, the mayor and chief of police insist the department is doing the best it can to keep costs down without sacrificing public safety.

“When police overtime occurs, you don’t have any choice,” Mayor Mark Epley said. “In the middle of the summer, you can’t have one police officer on duty … it’s unsafe.”

Police Chief William Wilson Jr. said he tried to stay under budget but circumstances did not allow it. Those circumstances included numerous demonstrations targeting day laborer gathering places and even the mayor’s private residence, which required extra police attention last year, he said.

“It’s not that we’re being irresponsible with it,” Chief Wilson said. When there are unforeseen circumstances, there is no way around overtime spending, he said.

Mr. Epley and the rest of the Village Board budgeted the police department $170,000 for overtime for the fiscal year that started last June and ends May 31. The department has already spent more than $276,000 on overtime pay as of March 25, according to Village Administrator Jim Van Nostrand. To cover the shortfall, money was shuffled: $108,000 from the department’s salaries budget and $20,000 from its miscellaneous budget. Extra money existed in the salaries budget because of unfilled positions, retirement and suspensions. The miscellaneous budget includes public relations, computer repair, uniforms and other expenses.

With the overtime budget now raised to $298,000, Mr. Van Nostrand said he expects the Village Board will need to increase it again based on the department’s monthly average.

Chief Wilson said he had asked for $307,000 for overtime this year. His request was based on overtime expenditures in the previous five years and assumed a 4-percent annual increase. The prior fiscal year, the department spent $313,748 on overtime; in 2005-06 it spent $287,400; in 2004-05 it spent $265,180; and in 2003-04 it spent $269,383, according to the village’s deputy treasurer, Stephen Funsch.

Chief Wilson is requesting $319,280 for the overtime budget for 2008-09, Mr. Van Nostrand said. That number will likely be reduced before the budget is finalized, he added. The village board will approve a new budget before May 1.

Overall, the police department has spent $4.58 million of its $5.1 million budget for the year. “They will definitely go over their budget,” Mr. Van Nostrand said. “The question is, how much?”

At the end of the year, however, the village’s books will balance because some other departments have underspent, he added. Mr. Van Nostrand also pointed out that the village’s revenues are already $77,000 over the $18.2 million projected, and he expects much more from delayed payments and grant money, he said.

Mr. Van Nostrand said he is sure that the police department could find ways to reduce overtime, but questioned what effect cuts would have on the safety of the village.

The overtime budget covers not only police officers but support staff and 911 dispatchers as well, the chief noted. Due to suspensions, injuries and military obligations, this year the department has had as many as seven employees out of work at the same time, not including those who were out sick or on vacation.

Training requirements also contribute to overtime costs, Chief Wilson said. “New York State mandates that all police officers have to go through 24 hours of training a year,” he said, and he estimated that Southampton officers go through 40 hours of training a year. He said he is committed to training, because it provides for higher quality police protection and reduces liability.

Southampton may be a small village, but it requires significant policing because of the high-profile visitors it attracts, Mr. Epley said. And the village holds several special events each year, he added: About 10 percent of the department’s overtime budget was spent during the 2007 Fourth of July weekend, according to Chief Wilson.

The village is reimbursed for overtime police expenses when they are accrued during privately organized community events and the Suffolk County district attorney reimburses the village for overtime incurred by officers who participate in the East End Drug Task Force. The state does the same for overtime incurred during state initiatives, such as STOP-DWI and seat-belt enforcement. That money is deposited into the village’s general fund.

The department is operating with only 28 “sworn personnel,” though the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services has recommended Southampton increase its force to 34, Chief Wilson said.

“There are services I cannot offer when my staffing is at this level,” he said. For example, the department no longer participates in the school program Drug Abuse Resistance Education, nor does it provide a beach patrol. The department has also given up having a patrol dedicated strictly to traffic, one which Chief Wilson said reduced the amount of accidents.

Even fully staffed, the chief said there would still be overtime expenses unless the department made many more hires, but “it’s always going to be more cost effective to pay overtime than to hire,” he said, citing the costs of health and retirement benefits that come with new officers.

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