With a mixture of resignation, frustration, and cautionary instruction, alders unanimously signed off on spending over $3 million reserved for debt service on shoring up the police and fire overtime budgets instead.
That recommendation came on Monday night at the end of a nearly four-hour-long Finance Committee meeting held in the Aldermanic Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.
The dozen alders on the committee heard hours of testimony from the city’s police and fire chiefs about how staffing vacancies and expired union contracts have put the two public safety departments on track to exceed their overtime budgets by a combined $5.1 million this fiscal year, which ends in June.
At the end of the night, the local lawmakers ultimately recommended approval of the city’s request to transfer $2 million from the city’s debt service budget and $2 million from the police salary budget to cover projected overages in police overtime.
They also recommended transferring $1.1 million from debt service to cover projected overages in fire overtime, $300,000 from debt service to cover projected overages in fire salary, and $200,000 from police salary to cover projected overages in police equipment.
The matter now goes before the full Board of Alders for a final vote.
Despite the unanimous vote of support for the debt-to-overtime budget transfers, alders were far from enthusiastic about the decision.
“I wish we could just vote no,” said Westville Alder and Finance Committee Vice-Chair Adam Marchand, “and then they wouldn’t spend it. But they’re gonna spend it anyway. At the end of the day, this is kind of an accounting issue for us. ... Practically speaking, if we were to deny this transfer, we’d likely see it again at the end of the fiscal year.”
“We may not have extra money next year,” warned East Rock Alder Anna Festa, referencing the city’s recent $160 million debt restructuring, which pushed tens of millions of dollars of debt service payments a decade into the future. “We cannot continue to put the burden on the taxpayers.”
Board of Alders President and West River Alder Tyisha Walker-Myers called on the public safety chiefs, city administrators, and her colleagues on the board to be creative when coming up with proposed solutions for the city’s persistent police and fire overtime problems. Because when it comes to transferring millions of dollars from one area of the budget to cover overtime, she said, “We can’t keep going through this every time.”
The proposed budget transfers now make their way to the full board for a final vote.
From 495 To 430 Budgeted Officers
“From the overtime standpoint,” Police Chief Anthony Campbell told the alders, “the main driver in overtime is staffing shortages.”
Campbell said that the department currently has 395 officers on the payroll. That’s 100 fewer than the 495 officers included in the department’s Fiscal Year 2018-2019 (FY19) budget.
Furthermore, he said, 16 officers are currently out on worker’s compensation, three are on administrative leave, three are on administrative assignment, one is on suspension leave, and one is on military leave.
When the department has so many vacancies, he said, overtime inevitably adds up because officers are being asked to perform duties that the budget and the department organizational chart assumes will be filled by positions that are currently vacant.
In next fiscal year’s budget, Campbell said, the department will likely drop its budgeted number of officers from 495 to around 430. He said he hopes that reduction in budgeted positions will free up room for higher salaries for the remaining positions.
“In order to provide the service,” he said, “we need these funds to get us through the end of the year.”
This year’s budget originally set the department’s overtime at $4.4 million.
“What do you feel is the proper number of police officers for the size of this city” Festa asked.
“It depends on what you want to do,” Campbell replied. The community policing that New Haven takes pride in, he said, costs time, money, and officer resources. It requires officers to show up to community management teams and neighborhood events and establish familiar, trusting relationships with residents independent of their primary responsibilities of suppressing crime.
He said the department is considering converting several currently vacant officer positions, such as body camera specialists and police mechanics, into civilian positions as a means of decreasing both salary and overtime.
But for now, he said, so long as city police officers remain without a contract, so long as officers continue to resign and retire in droves, and so long as community policing remains a valued city goal, the police department will always be chasing the tail of too many vacancies and too much overtime.
72: Too Much? Too Few?
Fire Chief John Alston told the alders that overtime in his department is similarly driven by vacancies. The city’s fire department currently has 34 unfilled budgeted positions, he said. Around 30 prospective firefighters are about to be seated in a new fire academy class next month, he said, and he hopes to have another full class in training later in the summer or fall.
But 45 firefighters are currently eligible to retire, he said, and the department is legally allowed to seat classes no bigger than the current number of firefighter vacancies. It cannot take into account imminent, likely resignations and retirements. Asst. Chief Orlando Marcano said that eight firefighters are currently on workers compensation: four on light duty, and four on long-term injury.
The department is on track to spend over $3.2 million in overtime this fiscal year. They official overtime budget is $2.17 million. As with the police department, the fire department also has an expired union contract, though its contract negotiations are not currently in arbitration, as is the case with the police.
Hill Alder Dave Reyes asked the chief if large, demanding fires are the biggest drivers of overtime.
“The main trigger for overtime is the day-to-day staffing,” Alston replied.
Alston said that, per the union contract, the department must have 72 firefighters on duty at all times. That minimum staffing requirement also contributes to increased overtime when the department has vacancies.
“That was a negotiation that was done in the contract,” Fetsa said about the minimum staffing number. “But is it necessary?”
Alston said the only way to properly determine whether that number is high or not is for the city to commission a third-party deployment study.
And what’s the hold up on getting that study done? Festa asked.
Alston said the department and the chief administrative officer (CAO) are working on drafting a request for proposal (RFP). CAO Sean Matteson said after the meeting that he would like to have the study done sometime this calendar year.
“Epitome Of Foolishness”
The only member of the public to address the alders during the two public safety budget transfer hearing was budget watchdog Gary Doyens.
Doyens singled out the city’s proposed use of debt refinancing dollars to cover operational expenses as a violation of a key principle of municipal finance: debt is for capital projects, not recurring costs.
“You don’t use debt money to pay for operational costs,” he said. “That’s just the epitome of foolishness.”
He also criticized the fire department for delaying on commissioning a deployment study. What good does a reevaluation of the department’s minimum staffing requirements do, he asked, if that reevaluation comes after the department has finished negotiating a new contract with its union.
“If we never ask for the deployment study,” he said, “then we’re just whistling in the wind. What’s the point.”
As for the police department’s pitch, he said he has been advocating for a reduced force for years. The current number of budgeted positions is way too high, he said, and even dropping that number from 495 to 430 will still leave the city with one of the highest officer-to-resident ratios of any American city.
“The level of staffing we have in our police department is luxurious,” he said, “and we just can’t afford it.”
As the alders prepared to vote, Marchand said he takes Doyens’s criticism seriously, particularly in regards to not using debt refinancing proceeds to pay down overtime. That money could have been used to fill up the city’s rainy day fund, he said, or even to give a rebate to taxpayers.
“But we’ve certainly not had the last bite of the apple in terms of talking about this issue,” he said. The mayor is scheduled to propose her budget to the alders on March 1, and the alders will have another three months of public hearings and deliberations about city department finances, including those of police and fire.
After the hearing, Matteson said his priority on the issue is having honest conversations with alders and department heads about putting together realistic public safety overtime numbers for next year’s budget.
posted by: BevHills730 on February 12, 2019 9:45am
I thought Sean Matteson was supposed to be getting this under control?
posted by: wendy1 on February 12, 2019 10:01am
Too many cops, too much overtime. I go with Gary Doyens, an invaluable resource and the lone voice of reason in that chamber.
posted by: Noteworthy on February 12, 2019 10:05am
1. What should have also been said - is that it’s a false choice - use debt to pay operational costs. It would have been an interesting question to ask these department honchos - what other budget should we strip to pay for your overspending?
2. The foolishness of using debt to pay operational costs cannot be overstated.
3. The PD’s overtime at one point this year, hit $270K PER WEEK. And the department is still spending about $120K. PER WEEK on O.T.
4. The choices in the poll are also poor. We should have far fewer cops - and use the millions in savings to pay those still on the payroll more. And we’d still save money.
5. It’s is BS that the city’s failure to hire enough cops has lead to all that overtime. It’s a failure of Chief Campbell and the other chiefs to rework the schedule so that fewer officers are on duty. It’s stupid to keep the same deployment strategy with fewer officers than you have - and therefore, overrun your budget. And then just tell taxpayers - screw you. Why didn’t the chiefs make the operational changes?
posted by: ElmCityLover on February 12, 2019 11:47am
Everyone wants less cops til their car gets broken into and no one shows up for 3 hours.
posted by: FacChec on February 12, 2019 11:49am
Board of Alders President and West River Alder Tyisha Walker-Myers said: “Because when it comes to transferring millions of dollars from one area of the budget to cover overtime, she said, “We can’t keep going through this every time.” Tyisha, look back at your record, you have been going through this every time and some budget years you have approved the very same action in mid year as well. You have also approved $1M in police overtime monies held in a policy amendment pending the department coming before you committee and begging for it…needless to say you approved that also. Obviously then there is something fundamentally wrong with the budget the Mayor is presenting every March.. If the overtime budget is approved at $4.4M and you are projected to spend $8M, a 50% increase, then the Mayors budget is obviously flawed and structurally planned to be unbalanced so as to insure the city is in this position every year as it has been. Either the police dept is planning its budget inappropriately according to staffing demands or, as apparent, the Mayor, Jones and Gormany are NOT monitoring and providing adjustments monthly to cover pending shortfalls in accordance with the charter Sec. 5. - Monthly Financial Report. “If the Mayor shall project a deficit, the Mayor shall in such monthly report make recommendations to the Board of Alders for actions to be taken to eliminate the full amount of such projected deficit. Each monthly report shall also be filed in the office of the City Clerk where it shall be available for public inspection”. This is oversight is more needed with regard to the BOE. “We may not have extra money next year,” warned East Rock Alder Anna Festa, referencing the city’s recent $160 million debt restructuring, which pushed tens of millions of dollars of debt service payments into the future.
Note to Alder Festa, you just approved the city’s request to transfer $2 million from debt service, from the same $160 you approved via Scoop & toss”.
posted by: Noteworthy on February 12, 2019 12:01pm
Reality Check Elm City Lover:
The cops never show up for a car break in unless you have surveillance or witnesses who saw the perps. Nice Try. And no, we don’t need a luxuriously rich per capita police force. We have healthcare and pensions we can’t pay for; debt we can barely service and annual deficits for the last three years. Don’t crank me the give me more cops routine.
posted by: Dennis Serf on February 12, 2019 12:16pm
There is so much to be said about the issues reported in this piece, but the let’s begin with the more immediate less obvious issue first: 1. Alston said “the department and the chief administrative officer (CAO) are working on drafting a request for proposal (RFP). CAO Sean Matteson said…he would like to have the study done sometime this calendar year. “
Why is the fire department involved with drafting the RFP? Because the way the RFP and study are worded will determine the results. We all know that anyone can commission a study and have it return any results desired. The study will turn out to be a farce. FRAC recommended doing a study last year and recommended the BOA budget money for the study. But somehow, even with an 11% tax hike the BOA would not find the money or even raise the issue. Why? The answer is very simple - because Harp and the BOA want the union votes. Period. Full Stop. And as Gary pointed out, the study will be completed AFTER the next contract is signed. The City MUST suspend contract negotiations until an INDEPENDENT study is completed. Queue the anti-american anti-union comments.
2. We need fewer sworn officers (the one’s who take 6 months, cost $65K to train and then leave) but need to pay better the ones we do have. New Haven should take a page from Yale’s playbook. Yale has about 45 sworn officers, but has more than 100 other security guards (not ‘mall’ cops) that serve as eyes and ears and deterrents. We ought not be squandering resources and paying $100K+ a year for someone to come out and take a police report (via pen and paper) for things like a car break in. (contd)
posted by: Dennis Serf on February 12, 2019 12:19pm
2. There are more efficient ways. Exactly how many police we need is unknown. I filed a FOIA asking to see where the officers are scheduled and when (ie how many on traffic, how many at the animal shelter, how many guarding the mayor, how many doing PR work, how many at schools, how many downtown where Yale police have a strong presence etc). but was told the City will not release the information out of general security concerns. And of course I’m no expert in policing, so the info would be of modest benefit. But instead of having experts look at the info, the department, according to the NHI is working with local tax expert and law professor Ed Zelinsky, a former alder, on an internal audit of the department’s finances and operations”. Why? Where is the BOA? Where is everyone else? Why can’t the public see the data?
The party is over. The punch bowl is empty. The State MARB is knocking on the door. The whiff of bankruptcy is in the air. It’s time to get out the big brooms and clean up. The City needs better leadership at the top, and at the BOA. The next few months are critical to the City’s long-term future. The Mayor will be in a fight for her political survival and the temptation will be high to hand the City departments (and special interests) one more sweetheart contract and another bag of goodies. The taxpayers must remain vigilant. One of the reasons we started Our New Haven is to hold our elected officials and leaders accountable. All of he candidates for mayor must begin to take a position on these issues. Specific positions. I promise the residents, homeowners, and business owners that we will shine a light on the major issues.
If police spending overall is down, there should be no need to transfer funds from outside the department. With so many vacancies, there should be lots of surplus on the regular wages and salaries line to cover overtime. Why can’t the Alders do an intra-departmental transfer for the police?
(Fire is another story, with ample demand for too many, unneeded positions. The entire department needs to be reoriented towards its primary function: EMS.)
I disagree with these assertions. We need more police officers on the street, I’d much rather two dozen officers ignoring all traffic violations and delaying assistance for active crimes than just a single dozen. Its more comforting knowing that extra dozen can be just as passive aggressive and ambivalent towards their job as the first, I appreciate consistency.
I’m sure glad the fire chiefs did not mention the list of suspended WITH pay individuals for domestic violence and narcotic issues, that was a close one! It would give the police department a run for their money. Now, everyone keep quiet about the heavy rescue vehicle they bought without any idea of what to do with it.
posted by: Noteworthy on February 12, 2019 1:49pm
Elm City Lover:
You’re not listening - as a policy, the PD doesn’t answer car vandalism calls unless you have video surveillance or witnesses. Period. It’s not a matter of not having budget or cops or anything. That’s their policy. And call after 10a if you want to give a verbal report.
posted by: Noteworthy on February 12, 2019 1:52pm
CrowsNest - lol. The NHFD just bought another toy? Wonder how they got that one.
posted by: 1644 on February 12, 2019 2:21pm
Yes, I think Harp lugged the virtue of eh rescue vehicle as meaning that they would not have to roll heavy equipment for medical calls, which begs the question: why not buy an ambulance? (I think there was a federal grant for the rescue truck. Free money leads governments to buy stuff they do not need, or cannot afford to maintain, e.g., NHPS magnet schools.
posted by: narcan on February 12, 2019 2:23pm
With 395 officers, we are asking our department to accomplish so many tasks that it takes millions in overtime to cover it.
But the answer is to have less officers?
Someone smarter than me needs to explain this logic.
posted by: Dennis Serf on February 12, 2019 2:27pm
First, I thin k it’s great that people are engaged and we are FINALLY beginning to have the conversation. Now its time for the elected officials and those who want to be elected officials to join the conversation.
ElmCityLover: Reality check: if my car is broken into. I’d like the police to come. I think most people would. Even you.I don’t think that’s a luxury. I don’t know how many cops we need to achieve that, but I think John Velleca has made smart suggestions on other articles about limiting specialty units and getting cops “out of the building”.
I’m speaking from my own experience. In Nov my car was broken into. 3 of my neighbors also had their cars broken into the same night. I DID wait 3 hours for a police officer to come, and it WAS a complete waste of everyone’s time and our money. The officer was polite and professional. He spent an hour on the street speaking with neighbors and taking notes. The scene wasn’t processed though bc the contract requires a sworn officer (likely a detective) to process the scene, when in reality a tech with the proper schooling from UNH could process the cars. So, it was a waste of EVERYONE’s time, including the officer. I’d rather the officer be doing something else with his time. Better to be able to to file a car break in online via an online police report. And better to have a tech come out to process non serious crimes like the one I mention. So, there is plenty of room for improvement.
You can have an officer come out for something like this and you can also avoid the 3 hour wait, but you will need to get used to the 11% tax increases, and not having available a sworn officer with a gun and badge when you really need one.
posted by: ElmCityLover on February 12, 2019 2:29pm
Noteworthy: You’re taking my expression too literally. If that’s the policy, it should change. I stand by the fact that if my car is broken into, I’d like a cop to come.
-Everyone thinks sending fire engines to medical calls is a waste of gas and unnecessary wear and tear until its their kid/spouse/grandparent lying on the floor and the ambulance has to come from across town.
(and I don’t mean everyone literally, I’m making the point its easy to call for cuts for emergency services bc 99.9% of the time we’re not using them)
posted by: Dennis Serf on February 12, 2019 2:42pm
Narcan: With 395 officers, we are asking our department to accomplish so many tasks that it takes millions in overtime to cover it. But the answer is to have less officers?
Someone smarter than me needs to explain this logic.
I’ll explain it:
First, it’s more than 395. Yale has 45 officers with a heavy presence in downtown and East Rock. And it has 100 security officials dressed to resemble police and driving around in vehicles that resemble the NHPD vehicles. So, it’s more than 395.
Second, we have police doing work that doesn’t require 6 months of training, a gun, and $65K in training costs. Pay the police who ARE doing the dirty dangerous work more. We don’t know for sure how many calls to the non-emergency number actually require a police officer bc he City won’t release the stats, but I asked an officer or two and the response was: people call the police for everything. probably 35% of the calls are not really police work. Again, let’s look at the data.
posted by: Bill Saunders on February 12, 2019 3:12pm
Did Adam Marchand actual insinuate that if New Haven wasn’t so mismanaged, that we’d all be getting ‘tax rebates’? Nah—- That was just ‘political pandering’. Got your hopes up, though!!!!!
posted by: ElmCityLover on February 12, 2019 3:29pm
There’s a house on West Elm (I think it is) that has a mannequin in the window, ostensibly to serve as a deterrent. Its expected in most neighborhoods in this city that your car will be broken into. That’s crazy. I get its not a shooting/rape/armed robbery/bad accident. But with that expectation, even in the “nice” neighborhoods, how are we going to attract businesses and new residents? Quality of life crimes might be “minor” but quality of life matters.
Finding a better way to do it > not doing it. If we’re going to pay these ridiculous taxes, we should get quality services in return. I applaud Dennis’ creative solutions.
Other towns in CT have Community Service Officers, some volunteer and some paid to supplement the force. I think this would be a good start. Maybe hire local 18-21 year olds or area college students (UNH has plenty of CJ majors) to get them familiar with the force and invested in the department. Use it as a feeder for sworn positions and hopefully cut down on officers using New Haven to get their state cert then bouncing.
posted by: Dennis Serf on February 12, 2019 6:39pm
ElmCityLover - I agree, Community Service Officers would probably be part of the solution. There are lots of ways to approach the problem. But first the City and the BOA need to acknowledge there is a problem.
The article mentions Alders Marchand and Walker-Myers. I’ve met Adam and believe he is a good person, and very likable. I have never met Walker-Myers, but presumably she is as well. The problem is that both of these two individuals are so closely tied to Unite Here that neither one will ever challenge the Police or Fire Union on ANY issue. Both have put their allegiance to Unite Here and the unions ahead of their duty and responsibility to ALL the people of the City of New Haven. They are part of the problem. A very big part of the problem and we know we can’t rely on them to be part of the solution. In fact we can say that about two-thirds of the BOA who are tied to Unite Here. And the silent influence runs deeper. Just how deep is anyone’s guess because the topic has been taboo. As a taxpayer, I would love to see an org chart of sorts that identifies who at City Hall, who at the BOA, who in City departments, and which vendors, private developers, ‘non-profits’, and etc are aligned with/tied to Unite Here, and what sort of compensation they receive from the City.
So, like the police and fire staffing we need to start the conversation with respect to Unite Here. We ought to have an open and honest dialogue based on data and the facts. And I would very much like to see ALL the candidates for mayor begin to address the manner in which the BOA has put the interests of Unite Here above those of the rest of us in New Haven. I promise the residents, homeowners, and business owners that we will make this a topic. Again, we need to start the conversation with respect to Unite Here. The conversation should begin now.
I got to laugh when people ask how am I going to fix the budget, a THERMONUCLEAR DISASTER. You will need a bulldg mayor with a pinchpenny budget director and a pitbull city counsel—-that I can do. It can and must be “fixed” but we all will be cursing the damage done by this current bunch of goons.
If we are the second largest city, we should be getting the second largest chunk of state $$$. I PROMISE not to crush my constituents with any increase in property taxes for my full mayor term if elected. If Yale wants to use our fire and police, the price just went up. Yale is sitting on so much dough they could pay off the city debt, pay for more NHPS staff and upgrades, and improve just about all city services.
posted by: New Haven architect on February 13, 2019 2:30am
The alders overseeing and approving this misuse of public funds are a disgrace to the city and a disgrace to our democratic institution because they are not doing the work which needs to be done.
Tell the police and fire chief to work within their budgets. Their budgets will not be increased for any reason.
Cut the force as needed. Change their protocols as needed.
Develop and present a list of 20 recommendations for saving the city money.
Apply gold standards from well run towns and cities who have already solved these problems.
These are simple problems to solve
Get to Work!
Gary Doyens and his organization “Our New Haven” deserves the support of every taxpayer in this fair city of ours.
posted by: Noteworthy on February 13, 2019 9:46am
Narcan: WE are not asking the department to do things that costs millions in overtime. WE want the department to live within its budget. WE see that Chief Campbell has flouted his budget beyond even what he did last year WE don’t think that’s acceptable. Name the things that WE demand that costs millions in OT.
posted by: Noteworthy on February 13, 2019 9:52am
Under-reported: If other communities our size 171 of them weigh in on governing.com - and those communities average 16 to 21 officers per 10,000 - and their communities are safe and thriving, then we can have the staffing levels. The cop budget for this year had millions of dollars built into it - and a full 495 cops budgeted. That’s double what other communities have - DOUBLE. At 495, that’s 38 cops per 10,000. It’s luxurious as the benefits. And still the chiefs overspend. It’s malfeasance and incompetence.
posted by: 1644 on February 13, 2019 11:08am
Dennis Serf: Yale has 93, not 45, uniformed officers, https://your.yale.edu/community/public-safety/yale-police-department The primary focus of this force is the safety of the Yale community (think four officers dispatched to investigate a report of a possible trespasser sleeping in a common room), but there is clearly a spill over effect increasing the safety of downtown and the medical center. YNHH also has its own security force, in addition to the University’s.
posted by: narcan on February 13, 2019 2:18pm
Thank you for the reply, Dennis, but I’m afraid it doesn’t answer my question to point out that the department is over budget even with over 500 bodies on street (if we are to include a private organization’s employees in our public safety planning). That only seems to further support the position that the PD was given an unrealistic budget and has been for years.
The chiefs have pointed out that the main driver of OT is manpower shortage. The officers you see standing at construction sites are paid by the construction company, NOT the city. So we can see extra jobs are not costing us, rather the scheduling for coverage of regular shifts.
I do not see staffing as simple as a per capita approach. (Although on that basis, our luxurious staffing is on par with many urban centers and behind Boston, NYC, etc). If the PD needs X dollars to maintain an acceptable performance/workload staffing level, then the budget should be reviewed. It should have happened years ago, by the looks of things.
If we are going to blindly ask the department to live within a budget set by criteria that has nothing to do with performance, then I hope they don’t take the cops from my neighborhood! I suppose we could simply have them stop responding to property crimes since, as another comment elsewhere pointed out, offenders are rarely punished for those offensives anyway.
posted by: Noteworthy on February 13, 2019 8:01pm
There is nothing blind about the police budget. It is fat, bloated and unaccountable. Still, that’s not enough because leadership, without retribution or penalty - just spends even more. The problem is absolutely not staffing. It’s stupidity and blindness at the top level of the department that believes more cops equals safety. It doesn’t nor does it have anything to do with community policing. Campbell et al determine how many cops per shift per day they want to deploy. That plan is based on a full compliment of cops which they don’t have. So instead of looking at the budget, looking at available staff, and programming, deploying differently, they just book the shift, spend the overtime and then say: Screw you people. The mayor and the board of aldermen then use debt to pay the bill and hand the outcome to us, the taxpayers. Enough already.