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November 21, 2012

City weighs police funds in '13 budget

ONEONTA — Common Council members began a review Tuesday of the proposed 2013 budget with a focus on whether to keep two police positions costing $150,000.

Fourth Ward council member Michael Lynch submitted an amendment to the budget to restore that funding to the budget.

The mayor and several council members later in the meeting at City Hall debated the merits of maintaining existing staffing levels versus reducing a projected budget deficit.

A budget hearing on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, and the council must approve the budget as presented or amended Dec. 4. The police department has 28 authorized positions from officer to chief, and the department has two vacancies.

On Tuesday night, Maureen Hennessy, First Ward council member and chairwoman of the Human Resources Committee, said she would fight to maintain at least one of the two police positions in question because the police chief already has identified a candidate to fill an opening.

The police department has overcome the scandal and staffing turmoil of recent years, Hennessy said, and the momentum cannot be hindered.

“This is not the time to start cutting back,’’ Hennessy said.

Madolyn Palmer, Fifth Ward council member on both the Human Resources and Finance committees, said she agreed with Hennessy.

Hennessy and Mayor Dick Miller disagreed about whether authorization was given to interview the candidate without offering a job. The mayor has formed a task force to address police staffing and services, and Hennessy said one position could be withdrawn from the budget as the panel considers options.

Miller said the two positions could be cut, then the task force could decide on adding one, two, three or no positions as needed. A task force studying fire department staffing last year yielded successful steps this year, he said.

Police Chief Dennis Nayor told the council that he wants the positions maintained in the budget. The department projects two possible retirements within the next year, he said, current officers rely on staffing levels to fill in cases of leave for military service, medical reasons and overtime.

In a workshop session before its regular meeting, council members gave a green light to a revised map outlining the city’s eight wards.

The Redistricting Commission’s “Option F’’ was deemed satisfactory by each council member. The plan will be presented formally in a resolution next month, Miller said, and a public hearing will be set.

The realigned districts will take effect in the next elections for council members, he said.

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