Police Hires Still A Matter Of Debate For Council

The issue of police department personnel was brought up once again at the February 23rd municipal budget workshop. Previously this year, council voted and approved an ordinance which amended the police department hierarchy (link). During the discussion of the relevant agenda item in the budget workshop, Councilman-At-Large Carl Hokanson asked if the governing body was going to talk about a letter that Police Chief Paul Morrison sent out regarding the matter of pending police hires.

“I know it’s in Public Safety’s hands,” Council-At-Large Hokanson stated to the governing body, “But . . . in the four (4) years I’ve been here usually the longest we’ve gone is three-and-a-half months before we re-hire.”

Councilman Modesto Miranda, who is the chair of the Public Safety Committee, responded, “Right now we’re just going to be holding off on hiring anybody. [We’re] waiting to see from the labor attorney.”

Council-At-Large Hokanson stated that he did not understand what the labor attorney has to do with past practice of hiring police personnel. Councilman Miranda answered that the governing body is currently working on contract negotiations and the municipal budget. He added, “On his [the labor attorney’s] advice, he requested that we not hire anybody right now.”

“Unbelievable,” Council-At-Large Hokanson said, “We’ve done this for three years in a row and we’ve never gone underneath the 34-man maximum and we’re better off this year than we were the four years that I’ve been on council and we’re still not hiring. It doesn’t make sense to me, but again, that’s my opinion as I said in my memo.”

Mayor Joseph Accardi contributed to the discussion by stating that the initial justification for hiring a certain number of police personnel was a grant the municipality received for the police department. When the grant was initially instituted, Mayor Accardi said that the cost to the borough was $30,000 in order to receive more than a $60,000 benefit and that now the cost to the borough is $218,000 (for salaries and benefits) in order to receive $54,000 through the grant.

“So, we really need to be careful,” the mayor continued, “If it were a 50/50 deal, I think everybody would be for it but it’s way out of whack at this point that the cost of keeping that manpower at a certain level is $218,000 more in order to get $50,000.”

“Seems like it’s been out of whack then for the last 35 years then,” Council-At-Large Hokanson remarked.

“Probably has,” Councilman Miranda responded, “Nobody has really looked into it till now. It’s a shame.”

The mayor went on to state that there are several options that council is discussing to figure out the best course of action to take. Councilman-At-Large Carl Hokanson ended the discussion by asking the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) if the Boruogh has enough funding in case the matter goes to arbitration. CFO Ken Blum stated that there is money set aside in the Human Resources account for the labor attorney.

The next scheduled budget workshop is Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 6 p.m. in Borough Hall. The February 28th meeting has been canceled.