Police Department Overtime Restored

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, November 6, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON — Since its inception in 1981, the Hampton Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit slogan has been, “Serving the community, supported by the community.”

And if it’s up to the Budget Committee, it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

The committee voted 9 to 4 Tuesday, Nov. 3 to restore the equestrian unit, as well as cutbacks in the overtime made by selectmen in the Police Department’s proposed $3.5 million budget in the town’s 2010 operating budget.

“I think we are at the breaking point, and we have cut this budget as far as we can,” said Budget Committee member Larry Stuker, who accused selectmen of using a “hatchet approach” in determining what the town budget would look like.

“I understand people want to save money, but in the long run, it’s going to cost us,” Stuker said. “It’s going to make Hampton a less desirable place to live.”

Hampton Police Chief Jaime Sullivan said his department was asked to slash an additional $169,000 from the proposed budget by selectmen.

“The mounted patrol is an emotional issue and it’s part of our history,” Sullivan said. “To me it’s our trademark.

“We heard a lot of response from the community who are upset about this,” said the chief. “We understand it, and we don’t like it either.”

Selectman Jerry Znoj said the decision to cut the unit was made by the police chief, as well as the town manager.

“The horses work eight weeks of the year,” Znoj said. “During the other 44 weeks they are in a barn eating oats, using up hay and visiting the veterinarian.

“What can I say?” said the selectman. “It’s not cost effective — eight weeks for $40,000 and $50,000.”

The chief, however, said it was not his recommendation to eliminate the unit or overtime and that he was only trying to reach the goal set by selectmen to cut the entire town operating budget by $500,000. Selectmen wanted to cut that amount from the budget to keep the tax rate flat.

“I never made the recommendation,” Sullivan said. “That was 5-0 vote from selectmen.”

Sullivan said what made the unit stand out during the budget process this year was that he was requesting additional money for training the officers and horses involved.

The unit, which previously consisted of four Tennessee Walker horses, is now down to only two after Buddy and Blaze were retired because of their ages and were not replaced due to budget constraints.

Over the last year, the unit was more for show than it was for active duty due to lack of training, the chief said.

“The Hampton Beach Mounted Patrol Unit has historically been the best,” Sullivan said. “We want to return this unit into a functional, viable unit it once was.

“Right now, we are not confident enough to put them in that Friday night, very busy, lots of fights situation,” he said. “That is why we have law enforcement horses at Hampton Beach.”

As far as overtime in his department is concerned, Sullivan said it is used only when needed.

“Overtime is either filling in for someone who is out sick so we have sufficient coverage or calling an extra officer because of a major accident or a winter storm,” Sullivan said. “That is what overtime is there for.

“I’m concerned that if we continue to reduce, we will break. In our business when it breaks, it’s not a pipe or something under the road,” the chief said. “In our business when it breaks, people get hurt.”

Mary-Louise Woolsey, chairman of the budget committee, said she can’t see cutting more overtime in the Police Department budget, especially since there were many complaints during the summer of not seeing enough officers on the street.

“I think it would be good for our selectmen to go down on Ashworth Avenue at 10:30 p.m. on a hot summer night,” said Budget Committee member Patrick Collins, “and I can guarantee you sir, the first thing you will be looking for is a policeman.

“If you have any sense, you will be worried when you don’t see one,” he said.

Budget Committee members Mike Pierce, Dick Hansen, Norm Silberdick and Znoj voted in opposition to restoring the cuts.

Silberdick said the committee is overwhelmingly made up of “pro-spenders.”

“Everyone is facing hard choices and making decisions we don’t like to make,” Silberdick said. “If we keep adding to this budget, all it’s going to do is result in taxpayers rejecting the budget.”

Pierce agreed.

“The Budget Committee has lost contact with voter sentiment,” he said. “The public has turned down five of the six budgets that this committee has recommended.

“If I was a voter, I would toss every Budget Committee member that is up in the March election on the street,” said Pierce.

Woolsey said the committee’s job is to put forth a responsible budget to voters, and that is what it is doing.