continued In the report, the committee compared Bethlehem police statistics to those of other towns like Guilderland, Rotterdam, Vestal in Broome County and Manlius in Onondaga County, deemed comparable by figures like population, mileage, the amount of officers and service calls and the number of retail establishments. Of the six departments in the comparison, Bethlehem paid the most in overtime last year despite there being similar staffing between most of the municipalities.
The committee found restructuring the DARE program and reducing the time spent in schools by resource officers could save another $125,000. Kidera said those funds should come from the school district to help pay for the drug prevention program because the police department claims it is highly affective.
“But we know it’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said.
The district pays $45,000 toward the $337,800 needed to fund the program and the resource officers.
Several residents and members of the police force spoke out against making any cuts to the Police Department.
James Kerr, a Bethlehem police officer speaking on behalf of the Police Officer’s Union and the Police Supervisor’s Association, called many of the findings “fundamentally incorrect” and called into question the qualifications of the committee members charged with creating the report.
“From the report it would appear they don’t have even a basic knowledge of police procedures or things like contractual obligations,” he said, mentioning a 2007 report by the state Division for Criminal Justice Services that determined the department was understaffed.
Kidera said the committee merely looked at what could be changed fiscally because the town’s current economic situation. The expiration of a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Selkirk Cogen and rising costs has the town looking at an estimated budget gap of up to $3.5 million for the coming year.
“We did not argue that the police aren’t vital to this community … because you do what you do and do it well, but sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture from the town’s perspective or resident’s perspective,” Kidera said.
Corsi said people are only thinking of the bottom line, instead of the actual services performed.
Actual budget decisions will not be made by the town until the fall and officials are still seeking additional cost saving suggestions.