With a police budget overrun of about $120,000 this past year, Police Chief Joseph Sinagra needs to cut costs. This coming year will bring two changes: organizers of special events requiring a police presence will be charged for overtime, and a new volunteer police program will aim to bolster the ranks at no cost to taxpayers.
Sinagra said he expects overtime charge-backs to save about $50,000. The town’s largest event, the Kiwanis Club’s two-day Garlic Festival, which can draw around 25,000 per day, already writes the town a check each year for police and other associated costs (usually between $10,000 and $15,000). The organizer of the second largest event in Saugerties said he understands the move. “Everybody is up against the same things,” said Bob Siracusano of Sawyer Motors, sponsor of the summer car show that draws 10,000. “So we’re okay with it.”
Sinagra said he attended all the special events requiring police presence last year and found some, like the Garlic Festival, were overstaffed. So this year, some will have fewer officers.
For the summer Bed Race, officers will just be there to close the streets. Co-organizer Marjorie Block says she’s fine with some charges for police overtime. “I don’t believe it will have much of an impact,” she said. “Those events that are [making a profit] can afford to take the burden off the taxpayers and events like the Bed Race or Holiday in the Village can use volunteers to assist. These are not events that have had any history of problems and are very low-risk.”
One event that will not have fewer officers is the annual Zombie Crawl, which, though it attracts families, is considered by police to be a pub crawl at-heart. So the full detail of officers will be there again this October, assuming it continues.
Sinagra said he will be meeting with the various event organizers to discuss overtime costs and the number of police needed for each event. In cases where organizers don’t make much money, they might not be charged.
“I don’t believe the taxpayer should have to cover the cost of these events where the organizers are making money,” Sinagra said.
Sinagra’s other plan involves using trained volunteer officers, an increasingly popular program pioneered by the LAPD, which he says has 650 volunteer officers. To qualify, volunteers would have to be former police officers or police academy graduates. They will undergo a full screening process, including background checks, psychological testing, and a polygraph test. Sinagra was expecting about 30 people to attend an April 11 interest meeting.
Volunteer police officers can be used to fill in when an officer is sick or on vacation, especially during extra busy times like summer weekends and during special events. Sinagra is hoping to field about a dozen volunteer officers and 10-12 clerical workers. The latter group will file reports and do the paper work duties of police dispatchers. Volunteer officers will be asked to commit about 24 hours a month; clerical workers, one hour a month. Funding for equipment will come from forfeitures — assets seized during large arrests, mostly drug busts. Sinagra estimates it will cost $500 to outfit each volunteer police officer with a uniform and gun, and $100 for clerical workers.
Reaction to plans
There have been some concerns voiced with both programs, Sinagra said, and those are coming from the police officers. They believe the cost-cutting will prevent the department from hiring officers and reduce their overtime. What about police officers who rely on extra income from overtime to augment their base pay? “They need to make a new plan,” Sinagra said. The economy is not doing well and police need to make ends meet without overtime, said the chief.
Police officer Ryan Hempel, the president of the Saugerties Police Department PBA, did not return calls seeking comment.
Town Councilman Bruce Leighton loves the plan. “One of the biggest issues during our budget workshops was police overtime and how to either cut it or pay for it,” he said. “If the chief had not made this plan, we would have had to add thousands of taxpayer dollars to the budget for these events.”
Sinagra, obviously having caught some flak for the cost overrun this year, pointed out that the 2012 budget was set by predecessor Lou Barbaria. He said that budget didn’t plan for special event overtime. This year’s budget is totally Sinagra’s and “if I go over budget I want to be able to justify it.”