The Sag Harbor Village Board last week unanimously adopted an $8.78 million budget for 2013-14—approximately $8.26 million for the general fund and $519,072 for the sewer fund.
Under the spending plan, Office David Driscoll, the police department's officer of the year, will be laid off to save money, and another police position will be eliminated.
Officer Driscoll, a member of the force for more than two years, was honored in January for leading the department in the number of DWI arrests and issuance of traffic tickets, in 2012. He is the odd man out because he was the most recently hired. Village documents list his base salary for this year at $102,701, his total salary as $113,811 and total compensation as $175,370.
Village Mayor Brian Gilbride and board members Robby Stein, Ed Gregory and Kevin Duchemin voted in favor of the budget during a brief special meeting last Thursday, April 18, at 8 a.m., despite pleas over the past several months from the police that cutting officers would jeopardize public and officer safety.
The spending plan, unchanged since the last budget hearing on April 3, represents a roughly 2.57-percent increase in general fund spending, from about $8.06 million this year to $8.26 million. A house assessed at $795,000, the average in Sag Harbor, would get a tax bill of about $2,249.85, an increase over $2,165.58 this year.
The police portion of the budget would drop from roughly $2 million this year to $1.7 million next year, although benefits for police department employees are not included in that figure, but are grouped with other village employees in the general budget.
The number of officers would drop from 12 to 10, excluding the chief. In addition to cutting Officer Driscoll's position, the village previously decided not to replace Officer Michael Gigante, who left in the fall, citing an uncertain future with the department amid a contract stalemate.
Mr. Gilbride maintains that the cuts are needed as a way to tackle escalating costs and denies that they were ever a bargaining tactic.
"Listen, it's getting to where it's just too expensive," Mr. Gilbride said last Thursday afternoon. "The ongoing costs when you compound them are out of control. This is trying to get a handle on it."
Chief Fabiano, who had publicly pushed to save his officer's job, said last Thursday that he believes his officer got cut because the village and police union had not reached a contract agreement.
The two sides are now in arbitration.
"I'm kind of speechless about the whole thing. I'm extremely disappointed. I think it's going to have an adverse effect on the department and the village as a whole. I didn't hear anyone asking me any questions about how this affects the department or officer safety or the safety of the people of the Village of Sag Harbor. There were absolutely no questions asked," the chief said. "Even though denied, it was clearly because the [Patrolman's Benevolent Association] hadn't come to an agreement with their contracts. And Officer Driscoll was held out there as a carrot."
PBA President Pat Milazzo agreed with the chief's stance that the cuts were made because a contract had not yet been reached.
"I definitely think the layoff is a result of the contract," he said. "The lack of independence on the Village Board is shameful, frankly. The only agenda is the mayor's agenda."
He added that the felt the cuts were "misguided" because the department is already shorthanded.
Instead of two officers on a shift at any given time, there might just be one, heading into the busy summer season. "Obviously that's not a good way to staff your patrol chart," he said, adding that public safety will be affected. Sag Harbor might not be in a position to assist Southampton Town Police as well, for example. "if they're short and we're short … that doesn't bode well for the public."
He said he was surprised that Mr. Duchemin, a police sergeant in East Hampton Village and the PBA president there, voted in favor of the budget, but he declined to comment further on that. "I would let him answer that," he said.
Sgt. Duchemin did not return requests for comment this week.
Officer Driscoll, meanwhile, in being named Officer of the Year, was also honored for his work as a member of the Suffolk County district attorney's office East End DWI Task Force.
Before transferring to Sag Harbor from the Southampton Town Police Department, he was honored in 2010 for having the highest number of DWI arrests with that department as well.
"I think he was shocked and disappointed," Chief Fabiano said of Officer Driscoll's reaction to the budget adoption. "It's sad. It's really sad."
Sag Harbor's spending on police has taken center stage over much of the past year amid an impasse over the Patrolman's Benevolent Association contract. After the village and union failed to reach agreement over the contract in negotiations, they entered mediation, and, when that failed, binding arbitration.
As the two sides tried to find middle ground behind the scenes, Mr. Gilbride announced that spending—particularly on employee medical and retirement costs—has been soaring to unsustainable levels, thereby necessitating cuts.
He talked about halving the size of Sag Harbor's force and bringing in one of three outside agencies to make up the difference. The village sought and received proposals from the Suffolk County Sheriff's office, Southampton Town and East Hampton Town and drafted a contract, but Mr. Gilbride later said he would consider layoffs instead.
The Sag Harbor Village Board last Thursday also hired F. Michael Hemmer. LS, P.C. for professional surveying services and The Raynor Group for engineering services for a long-awaited remediation of Havens Beach.
Costs were not included in the resolutions. Village Mayor Brian Gilbride said the village is awaiting a proposal from the surveyor and that the engineering cost was under $4,500.