Hartford Undecided On Top Cop

Selectboard Delays Decision On Whether to Hire a Chief

Hartford — Members of the Police Department will have to wait until next month before learning who will lead them and under what conditions under the 2014-15 budget.

During a budget workshop Thursday night, the Selectboard put off until January a decision on how much to earmark for police administration — including whether to continue employing a single public safety director to oversee both the police and fire departments. The other option would be to return to having a chief for both departments. Fire Chief Steven Locke has been serving as public safety director since July.

The board, however, did vote to reduce the hours of the police department’s lone community service officer, a move that had been opposed by the union that represents the town’s police officers.

After approving budgets of nearly $2.47 million for the fire department, nearly $640,000 for dispatch communications and nearly $360,000 for emergency medical services, the Selectboard voted unanimously to go behind closed doors to discuss “personnel” issues in regards to the police administration structure.

“It was about the specific employees involved (in the decision on public safety officer versus separate chiefs),” board chairman Chuck Wooster said of the executive session. “Specific employees and contracts.”

At the recommendation of Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg, the board last year created the position of public safety director, and installed Locke in that role — at an annual savings estimated at $90,000.

For the coming year’s budget, which stands at $14.3 million, Rieseberg has proposed doing away with the public safety officer and separating management of the departments.

The Selectboard will continue its deliberations on the police administration budget at a workshop in January, likely on the 7th or the 9th, Wooster said. This week’s snowstorm forced the postponement until Jan. 2 of a scheduled workshop on how much to spend on senior citizen services, financial administration, auditing, property valuation, planning and development and highways.

The workshop schedule calls for discussion of and decisions on the solid waste, water and wastewater budgets on Jan. 7, and the recreation department and the Barwood Arena on Jan. 9.

Thursday night’s postponement of a vote on the police administration budget also defers the decision on whether to leave one full-time patrolman position unfilled.

Rieseberg has proposed not filling the vacancy as part of his overall plan to limit the increase in the overall town budget to $900,000, or 6.7 percent over the current year’s spending.

Also on Thursday night, the selectboard voted 6-1 to ratify Rieseberg’s proposal to reduce from 40 hours a week to 25 hours the job of community service officer, over objections expressed earlier this week from the Hartford Police Union.

The duties of the job include animal control, fingerprinting, solid-waste complaints, parking enforcement, and maintenance at the police station.

Incumbent community service officer Brandon Dyke deferred comment on the proposal to police administrators, at which point Locke said that his team reluctantly recommended the reduction.

When Selectman Simon Dennis asked whether the estimated savings of $6,700 are worth the added work for regular patrol officers, Deputy Police Chief Braedon Vale said, “It is a hard decision to make, if you have to make cuts across the board. It’s going to affect service somewhere. (At the same time), it is one of the less critical positions.”

Rieseberg added, “There’s very little you can do in (the police and fire) departments without affecting manpower.

“We looked at the least critical members of our staff … and we made difficult decisions.”