NORWALK, Conn. – Things have reached a critical point and the city really needs to invest in new police vehicles, even if it’s not a good year to do it, Norwalk officials said Wednesday.
The planned purchase of eight SUV’s is one of the primary reasons the next Norwalk Police budget has swelled 3.8 percent from 2013-14, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said.
But Norwalk Board of Estimate and Taxation members, who are saddled with the task of cutting $500,000 from Hamilton’s recommended 2014-15 operating budget, got no easy answers from Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik as they looked for things they might cut.
“We are at a critical stage and, with the SROs (school resource officers) needing vehicles, it’s going to get to the point where people want walking patrols, well they’re going to get them,” Kulhawik said.
The $20,758,197 recommended police budget is $762,617 higher than last year’s figure, an increase of 3.8 percent, Hamilton said. Of that, $264,300 is for eight new SUV’s and two (used) Detective Bureau vehicles; $112,860 for fuel and maintenance; $107,963 for Workers Compensation and other insurance premiums; and $77,579 for building maintenance due to a reallocation of Guardian-provided janitorial services to city buildings.
Director of Management and Budgets Bob Barron said waiting to buy vehicles would hurt. “At some point you’ll have to double up on the order,” he said. “… This is the year where you really need to make the purchase.”
That’s because buying vehicles has already been put off, officials said.
“Last year we only got three. There was a year several years ago when we got none,” Kulhawik said. “… I understand why. It was a situation that it really needed to be done, but it’s put us in the position now where we’re behind the 8-ball and we’ve been fighting that for the last several years.”
Police vehicles last five years – and that’s pushing it, Rilling said. Fixing them is good, but it gets to the point where the repairs are more than the vehicle is worth, Kulhawik said; $16,000 was spent last year to keep a 2007 Ford Explorer going and it is only worth $12,000, he said.
Two unmarked vehicles died in the past three months, Kulhawik said.
Fairfield gets 12 new police vehicles a year, he said. Bridgeport just bought 60, he said.
SUVs are desired because they are bigger, he said. The sedans – basically a Ford Taurus – don’t really get better gas mileage because they’re both using basically the same engine, he said. Getting vehicles that use less gas doesn’t pay because you pay more money for the vehicle, he said.
In addition to Workers Compensation, other insurance and janitorial services, other non-vehicle cost increases total $199,915, which includes an additional police officer to increase SRO presence at the middle and elementary schools. The recommended budget calls for $1.1 million in overtime.
If salaries go up when the police contract is settled, that will come from the contingency account.
“Most of our budget is out of our control,” Kulhawik said. “It’s personnel costs and it’s operational. There’s very little that we can give up. … You can cut the overtime budget but the fact of the matter is it’s going to get spent, it’s part of life.”
Paying overtime is actually cheaper than hiring more people as the staff would swell to 221 positions from the current 196, he said. Hamilton agreed, saying that there are a lot of expenses associated with police officers, including training and equipment.
The increased SRO presence at the middle schools has reduced crime significantly, Kulhawik and Mayor Harry Rilling said.
BET Chairman Jim Clarke asked Kulhawik if he would rather give up cars or people.
“If it was one car I would keep the officer,” Kulhawik said. “If you’re talking about getting rid of several cars then I would go for the cars because again, we’re going to get to that critical point.”