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Council tells PD to try again


March 24, 2010
BERLIN — The city council asked the police department to find almost $150,000 in cuts at their budget hearing on Wednesday, in an attempt to maintain the budget at the same level as last year.

"We're turning over rocks, Chief," Mayor Paul Grenier told Chief Peter Morency. "All I'm asking for is the effort."

The proposed police budget is more than $2.8 million, up 5.5 percent from last year.

Chief Morency and the police commission presented a budget that made the $150,000 in cuts by cutting two officers, along with a table of the total lost revenue the department would face if that plan went through.

The $150,000 reduction would lead to the loss of an additional $175,000 in grants, Chief Morency said, because dropping officers would disqualify the department for many of them. The total reduction would be $320,000, he said.

Still, Mayor Grenier said, the department has to try to reduce its budget, hopefully without any personnel reductions.

The comment came after a conversation dominated by Councilor Robert Danderson. He started asking Commissioner Tony Urban pointed questions 15 minutes before the meeting started, and other councilors came in to a heated discussion.

Councilor Danderson raised issue with the mileage spent on police vehicles, the size of the administration at the department, the cost of the department as compared to similar sized towns, the problem with repeat offenders, and the city's contract with Milan for coverage.

The department should put more police on the streets, he said, and make fewer arrests, but always be breathing down the bad guys necks.

"We are bound to uphold the law," Chief Morency said in response, which means arresting people for committing crimes, not harassing them.

And many of the departments Councilor Danderson compared to Berlin, he said, lacked the comprehensive services of the Berlin Police Department, including dispatch, crossing guards, their own buildings and more. Furthermore, he said, Berlin has a different population than much of the state.

"Please don't take these questions as we are demeaning you efforts," said Mayor Grenier. "This body is 110 percent behind the work you do."

The mayor and the commissioners all pointed to the poverty level and the slums as the root of the problem of Berlin's crime, which Chief Morency showed had increased over the last decade.

This is an old problem going back decades, said Commissioner Gerald Nault. "What the chief is doing is dealing with the results of that. We know that won't be corrected overnight. We've got to hold on to the reputation and service levels at the police department."

But Councilor Danderson said the city can't afford the increase.

"We are going to have to make some tough decisions here," he said, "because the middle income people are moving out."

Later he reiterated the statement.

"I'm basically telling you crunch time is here," he said. "People who are paying the bills are leaving."

The department is operating on 11 percent of its budget, Chief Morency said, with the other 89 percent going to salaries and benefits. So either they have to let people go, he said, or they have to cut out of that 11 percent, which they have kept minimal for the past several years.

Officer Dana Brouillette said the bargaining units were prepared to negotiate on the salaries and benefits, in an effort to reduce the $150,000 increase.

Mayor Grenier said the chief should try to get $70,000 out. If the unions can reduce their costs by $90,000, he said, that will address the challenge. His goal, he said, is to not lay anyone off.

And the police department's goal, he said, needs to be level funding, because the city can't handle a $150,000 increase.

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