The threat of layoffs for four Hillsborough Police officers still looms, with no announcement regarding contract negotiations at the close of Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting.
About 100 people, including Hillsborough police, rescue and fire personnel and police from nearby towns, gathered for the meeting, leaving standing room only in the municipal courtroom.
For the township, it’s continuing negotiations that they will only discuss at the bargaining table, Public Safety Liaison Frank DelCore said at the meeting. For Police Benevolent Association members, it’s footing a $250,000 in one year, after having many of their solutions vetoed.
“It’s news to me that he’s saying the negotiations were done,” PBA President Ted Lewis said. “The last thing he addressed to use was come up with $250,000 or four people were getting laid off.”
“That does not feel like negotiations,” he added. “That feels like extortion. . .This is a pick your poison scenario. The town solely wants $250,000 from our contract and it is only allowing us how we give concession from our contract.”
According to Lewis, a meeting regarding the contract revealed the budget shortfall and the layoff threat.
“The township advised they could not afford to pay the salaries, pensions and benefits for all 54 officers and remain under the 2 percent tax cap,” Lewis said. “The township asked the PBA to come up with a proposal to help solve the budget shortfall.”
While the PBA mentioned laws allowing the township to exceed cap limitations when covering increases in pension and benefit costs, the township would not exceed the budget cap, Lewis said.
DelCore affirmed the decision, noting the township’s commitment to a budget under the state-set 2 percent cap.
“We’re committed to plan of fiscal responsibility,” DelCore said. “We believe the taxpayers in these very difficult economic times should have property tax relief that minimizes further their tax burden in a time of high unemployment and families struggling.”
Faced with the possibility of layoffs and no exceptions to the cap, the PBA hired a forensic accountant to examine township finances.
“It is our accountant’s conclusion that based on a reasonable degree of accounting certainty, the township has the ability to compensate employees without additional concessions,” Lewis said.
The PBA subsequently offered an amendment to its 2011 contract, with $160,000 concessions, and $600,000 in savings in the new contract, Lewis said. The township dismissed that proposal, issuing a counter proposal—which Lewis said made the contract “unrecognizable”.
DelCore did not comment on the contract proposal, reiterating that the township would discuss negotiations details at the bargaining table. He did state the proposal would have long-term impacts for the township, but did not offer specific information on those impacts.
The PBA members then voted down the proposal when it was presented to them.
The issue is a public safety and an officer safety issue, rather than a simple money issue, according to Lewis.
The department saw a lieutenant and a corporal retire in 2010, which followed a prior trend of cutting positions after the person occupying them retired. Both the lieutenant and corporal positions retired while receiving full salaries, Lewis said.
The loss of those two positions and the four positions slated for layoffs would bring the department down to staffing levels seen in 1997—and would mean taking officers from the community policing division to fill patrol positions, according to Lewis.
The community policing division handles programs including DARE programs in district schools, stranger danger talks, bike safety programs and senior citizen’s talks.
The department has about 1.4 officers per 1,000 resident rate, whereas the county average is two officers per 1,000 averages, Lewis said.
“The police department would need 22 additional officers to meet the county average and 41 officers to meet the state average,” Lewis said. “To meet the FBI recommended rate of 2.7 police officers, the Hillsborough Police Department would need to double in size.”
According to DelCore, the reductions could cause program cuts but the department would continue to ensure public safety.
“We certainly take public safety very seriously but we believe the reduction would not jeopardize public safety,” DelCore said. “There might be some program or service cut backs but it would be up to the chief to ensure there is always adequate public safety.”
Last year, the PBA concessions had officers agreeing to compensatory time instead of overtime pay once the department exhausted its overtime budget. Those concessions limited the departments’ ability to fill overtime shifts, according to Lewis.
“At the end of the day, where we are is trying to resolve the budget issues that we have in town,” DelCore said.