STAFFORD — The Finance Council raised concerns Monday night over the proposed $45.4 million municipal budget, focusing on police spending.
Finance Council member Matt McKenney said he noticed a $50,140 increase in the Council of Councilors’ proposed budget for an in-state resident position, which is now vacant. He wanted to know if this position would definitely be filled during the next fiscal year.
First coach Salverio Titus said he is no longer looking to fill the position of resident soldier, but will replace that role with a state police sergeant, under a three-year contract, which will would have management experience and make the municipal police more efficient.
It is unclear whether the amount budgeted would be the city’s annual contribution to the state police sergeant’s salary or if it would cover the three years of the contract.
Titus added that the process of having warrants and affidavits signed by a superior would be faster than it is now with a state police sergeant in charge.
“Right now, all police reports are all signed by C Troop. If there’s a warrant that needs to be signed, it all goes through C Troop,” he said. “We sometimes have officers in C Troop for an hour to two hours waiting for a sergeant to come and sign a police report or a warrant. We’ll have ours in town, so our officers won’t need to leave; it will be a much faster process.
Finance Council member David Walsh asked if a resident state police sergeant would work strictly in the office and if there would be a clear line of command between the sergeant and the local police.
Titus said the job description would be similar to the work done by Lt. Stafford Thomas Duncan, who retired in February, but more efficient. There would be no staff reductions and a full-time officer was added to the local police department’s budget, he said.
“Duncan had no authority to sign police reports,” Titus said. “He didn’t have the authority to sign a lot of things… so it’s just to streamline it.”
Finance Council member Steven Geryk said he fears a resident sergeant’s first priority is as a state police officer, leaving the city police without anyone in charge.
Titus said the state troop sergeant assigned to the city would be in the office Monday through Friday, with no possibility of being called elsewhere.
Finance Council member Tony Pellegrino asked what was the benefit of having a resident state trooper in town.
Titus said it would be more expensive to run a larger city police department that requires 24/7 backup.
“I know there’s a soldier assigned to the city, but the No. 1 priority is to get backup working on everything else in the county,” Geryk said.
Finance Council member Richard Shuck agreed, saying that before Duncan arrived, the city had state troopers assigned to the city who sat on Interstate 84 using radar to catch the speeding on the highway.
On April 6, the Board of Selectmen approved a proposed new municipal budget of $14.9 million, saying the increase in spending in their first proposal of $15.5 million would not be accepted by voters.
Coach Kurt Vail abstained, saying the budgets for buildings, highways, transport and police should be reviewed for more savings.
The Board of Selectmen initially presented a budget of $15.5 million with an increase in spending of $1.4 million to the Board of Finance. The new expense increase is $885,837 more in the current fiscal year.
The total combined city and school budget is now $45.4 million.
The proposed school budget remains unchanged so far. School Superintendent Steven A. Moccio has proposed a 4.92 percent increase in spending, or $1.4 million, for a proposed total school budget of just over $30.5 million for the 2022-2023 financial year.
The budgets now go to a town hall on April 26 at the Stafford Community Centre, 3 Buckley Highway, before being sent to a referendum.
Deidre Montague covers the towns of Vernon and Stafford.