STOCKBRIDGE — Police Department expenses are slated to decline by just over 3.5 percent for the 2017 fiscal year, according to a budget preview presented by Police Chief Robert M, Eaton, Jr., at this week's public Selectboard meeting.
The proposed police force budget, one of a series presented by department heads ahead of formal reviews by the Finance Committee and Selectmen, seeks operating expenses totaling $102,500, compared to $106,300 for the current fiscal year ending June 30.
The police budget has been a bone of contention by some residents who have questioned the level of spending and the size of the force.
Eaton's presentation did not include salaries, since those are being compiled for town departments by Town Administrator Jorja-Ann P. Marsden in consultation with the Selectboard and the Finance Committee. In recent years, annual increases of 2.5 percent have been typical for union and non-union municipal employees.
The current Police Department salaries total $689,041, including the chief, six full-time patrol officers, and 11 additional line items such as overtime, holiday pay, comp time pay and training overtime.
Savings in the expense budget result from a 20 percent decrease in projected costs for uniforms, Eaton explained, because he anticipates only one new officer to attend required academy training to replace a likely retiree, instead of two academy trainees during the current fiscal year.
"This is less than level-funded," Selectman Stephen Shatz noted.
Eaton is also proposing replacement of a police cruiser with 96,000 miles on the odometer, which would be a separate article for approval by annual town meeting voters. A new cruiser is expected to cost $31,522.
Responding to queries from several citizens in the past on the department's need for three cruisers, Eaton noted that he drives an unmarked vehicle, though officers often use it for training out-of-town.
During some shifts, the department assigns two officers, he pointed out, adding that having a third marked cruiser — instead of two, as in the past — reduces the need for replacement from annually to every two years, with monthly mileage per vehicle cut from 4,380 to 2,388, on average.
Following his presentation, Eaton asked Selectman Ernest "Chuck" Cardillo, "if you're good with what I'm proposing as a budget. I'm only asking because you had criticized our budget in the newspaper and I want to make sure I'm addressing your concerns and any concerns of the people you represent, the citizens of Stockbridge."
"There's nothing I would change because you're under budget," Cardillo responded. "Your operating budget is very well-proposed. You're under by 3.5 percent, I'm happy with that."
Shatz said that, personally, he also supported the spending proposal. Board Chairman Charles Gillett was unable to attend the meeting.
Eaton also submitted annual and multi-year goals, based on input from his department staff, for review by the Selectmen.
His top priority for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1 calls for additional officers working patrol shifts and traffic control, including use of reserves part-time, and increased visibility of officers downtown.
Other goals include an annual performance evaluation system, staff meetings, as well as an annual community survey to improve police services and address concerns.
Also at Wednesday's meeting, Cardillo signed Eaton's second three-year contract, which takes effect in February 2017. The new contract, approved unanimously by the Selectmen in an executive session last Friday, had already been signed by Shatz and Gillett
On Friday, Eaton traveled to Townsend for a series of interviews by town officials who consider him the sole candidate for the top police job in that community.
Eaton could not be reached for comment, and it was unclear whether he was going to be offered the position in Townsend.
On other subjects, Shatz presented an update on the new cell tower to be installed by Verizon on town property at the former landfill off Glendale Middle Road, west of the business district.
Once regulatory environmental approvals are in hand, utilities to serve the tower would be installed along a new access road, followed by construction of a concrete base, movable equipment shed and a fence. Shatz predicted the tower, which would fill in coverage gaps in parts of the town, should be in service by early fall, at the earliest.
Also, Gillett, the board chairman, recently announced that he will not be seeking re-election after his current three-year term expires in May. Nomination papers for open town positions are available at the town clerk's office during normal business hours.
Police priorities ...
• Increase visibility downtown.
• Assist with traffic concerns downtown.
• More community interaction, involvement.
• More involvement in schools and with youth programs.
• Install a permanent camera and stand for processing prisoners and firearms licensing.
• Annual performance evaluation to provide two-way feedback, increase employee motivation.
• Establish professional goals and expectations.
• Implement annual community survey to improve police services, address concerns.