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Published: July 30, 2008 03:50 am ShareThisPrintThis
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Georgetown: Police try to cope with unexpected cut in budget
By Courtney Nguyen
Correspondent

GEORGETOWN - Police Chief James Mulligan told selectmen he will likely have to lay off a police officer because of a 5.1 percent cut in the department's fiscal 2008 budget.
"We are operating on a reduction from last year's budget of $6,120 per month," Mulligan said Monday. "The total reduction in my budget to cover expenses was $73,440."
The problem was first brought to the selectmen in June, when Sgt. Don Cudmore expressed surprise at the total amount reduced from the budget, saying it conflicted with his understanding of information given to him by the Finance and Advisory Board.
At the June meeting, Cudmore, who laid out the budget this year, said he was looking at the numbers and realized that $73,440 had been deducted from the mandated level-funded budget instead of the $36,770 directed by the finance board.
"It was double the amount we were told to cut," said Cudmore, who said that at a March 19 meeting of the finance board, which he watched on DVD at home three times, the police were told to decrease their budget by $36,770, the amount of contractual raises, and find the money from the expense side of the budget to make up the difference.
Cudmore, who has prepared the budget for the past four years, said it was his understanding that the $36,770 was the only decrease to be made, and realized last week that double that amount had been taken out.
"If this happens, we will be nearly $37,000 in deficit this year," he said.
Former finance board Chairwoman Sandy Gerraughty said at the June meeting that the Police Department was told to level-fund its fiscal year 2008 budget, with no contractual raises, and then subtract an additional $36,770.
"You need to understand that we only had $200,000 to give to all town departments this year," Gerraughty said. "You indicated to us that you understood that your budget was to be level-funded minus $36,770. We did not double anything. We wanted you to cut your contractual raises plus $36,770 and thought you understood that."
Cudmore still disputes Gerraughty's account of the problem, and he and Mulligan are scrambling to control the deficit.
At Monday's meeting, Mulligan explained that services will be severely cut, with the animal control officer and crossing guards gone.
"I am also going to have to lay off a full-time officer, and this reduction will force the Police Department to go into reactive rather than proactive mode. We will be back to the 2000/2001 staffing levels."
Mulligan said he is responsible for the utility bills for the entire public safety building, and with more full-time staff at the Fire Department in addition to rising fuel costs, this burden is higher than in years past.
"I have also directed officers to only drive 24 miles per shift to cut gas costs," he pointed out.
Selectmen Chairman Matt Vincent asked if the finance board were willing to vote to take some money out of the reserve fund to cover the deficit.
"I have been put on notice by Mrs. Gerraughty that there will not be a vote to take money from the reserve fund. That option is closed," replied Mulligan.
Vincent said that selectmen have no authority to give money to town departments.
"We would need a vote at a Town Meeting to do a line item transfer or to authorize free cash, and that won't be until November. Our hope was that you could make it work until the fall Town Meeting," Vincent said.
Mulligan said he has to lay off the officer as of Sept. 1 in order to make expense payments and can't take the risk of waiting until November.
"This will reduce response times and reduce the service we provide to Georgetown," he said.
Vincent also suggested taking up donations from residents, similar to the Save the Teacher fund set up by Scott Jones last year.
"I believe he raised $18,000 to $20,000. I expect residents would do the same for you," he said.
Mulligan said, "I hope the selectmen take the lead in supporting an override or free cash request at the fall Town Meeting."
 
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