Tension permeated the Sag Harbor Village Hall boardroom at Tuesday night’s Village Board meeting, as police officers, unhappy with the board’s decision to lay off an officer to save money in the 2013-14 fiscal year, pleaded with board members to reconsider.
But Mayor Brian Gilbride said the board would not change the recently adopted budget, despite their arguments.
Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano, Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Pat Milazzo and Southampton Town PBA Vice President Kevin Gwinn stepped up to the podium, one by one, to try to convince the mayor and his board to save Officer David Driscoll’s job. His layoff was part of the village’s cost-cutting measures for the new budget, even as the village and its police union continue to wrangle over a new contract.
“We are a committed group of officers who have tried to remain professional throughout the whole process, but we won’t remain silent anymore as the mayor sits idly by, pushing his own agenda,” Officer Milazzo said. “We would ask the board to reconsider the layoff. This decision has great impact on the department and people’s families. This is a serious decision—something that needs a little bit more thought and consideration—and you guys need to see what’s going on.”
In April, the Village Board unanimously adopted an $8.78 million budget for 2013-14. Under the spending plan, Officer Driscoll, the police department’s Officer of the Year, will be laid off to save approximately $187,000. He was the last officer hired, just two years ago.
The number of officers will drop from 12 to 10, excluding the chief. In addition to cutting Officer Driscoll’s position, the village previously decided not to replace Officer Michael Gigante, who left in the fall, citing an uncertain future with the department amid a contract stalemate.
Southampton Town Police Detective Gwinn, showing support for his “brothers,” said the cut is not worth the loss of protection, and that it is insulting to put a policeman’s job down to the number of calls he responds to each day. “We get paid for what could happen to us, not for what we do every day,” he said.
Officer Milazzo said the village isn’t giving the police force the resources it needs. “You’re setting yourself up for failure,” he said. Instead of two officers on a shift at any given time, there might just be one, heading into the busy summer season, he said.
Officer Milazzo alleged that the officer was cut because the village and police union have not reached a contract agreement.
Mr. Gilbride said the PBA didn’t compromise during negotiations and reminded Officer Milazzo that his two-minute maximum for public comment had passed, and the board was not negotiating with him then. “I’ll take two more minutes,” Officer Milazzo said continuing. “In the November meeting, you said, ‘I think we need 12 officers to be properly staffed.’”
“I never said that,” the mayor replied. “We get away with nine people.”
“That’s another lie,” Officer Milazzo said.
Detective Gwinn asked the board if all the board members knew that by passing the budget a full-time police officer would lose his job.
Mr. Duchemin, a police sergeant in East Hampton Village and the PBA president there, voted in favor of the budget but revealed on Tuesday night that he mistakenly thought they were going budget by budget, not knowing the vote was “all-encompassing.”
“It still would have been 3-1, and I’m pretty sure the discussion came up during the budget process,” the mayor countered. “Everyone at this table knew that the budget had 10 people and the chief in it.”
Detective Gwinn said it should be revisited: “In public perception, it paints a bad picture,” he said. “By June 1, something can be done. It will take nothing to go take a look.”
The mayor rejected the idea. “It’s a tight budget—there are a lot of things we have to get done,” he said. “That’s a no.”
Detective Gwinn, responded with disgust: “I think that’s a disgraceful answer.”
Department Accepts Students
The Sag Harbor Fire Department changed an outdated and often-ignored bylaw so that college students, who were barred from the squad under the rule, can join.
With the old law behind him, Kevin Duchemin Jr., a Suffolk County Community College student, has been accepted as an active probationary member with the Gazelle Hose Company.
The rule had been on the books since the 1970s; its purpose was said to prevent students from having to leave classes to fight fires. It states that “undergraduates attending local schools are not eligible for membership.”
Now, as long as a prospective member is at least 18 years of age, “of good moral character and sound mind and body,” a Sag Harbor Fire District resident for at least six months, and a high school graduate, he or she is eligible.