Published April 25. 2012 4:00AM Updated April 25. 2012 3:48PM
New London - If it were up to the City Council's Finance Committee, there would be no deputy chief position next year in the city's police department.
The committee voted Tuesday night to recommend no funding for a deputy chief in the 2012-13 budget, which would save about $100,000 in salary costs and about $40,000 in benefits, according to City Councilor John Maynard, a member of the committee.
On Monday, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced that former New Haven Assistant Police Chief Peter Reichard would fill the deputy chief position, which was held by Marshall Segar until January, when Finizio chose not to renew his contract.
"It is a needed position,'' Police Chief Margaret Ackley said. "I advocated for it two years ago and I'm still advocating for it.''
She said Segar "worked very hard at his job," which included overseeing internal investigations. She said it was not her decision to have him leave in January.
Also Tuesday, although the police department wanted a 7 percent increase in its budget next year, the committee instead recommended a 5 percent increase, cutting $240,000 from the department's $12.3 million proposal.
The committee voted unanimously to cut 2 percent from the police budget, leaving the department with a $12,046,657 spending package, about $700,000 more than the current year's budget.
The Finance Committee will continue its deliberations at 6 tonight at City Hall.
The recommendations of the committee - whose three members are city councilors - must be voted on by the full council. A special City Council meeting to approve the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.
The mayor has proposed an $87 million budget for 2012-13, a 6.4 percent spending increase that would require a 20 percent increase in the tax rate. Under his proposal, the tax rate would increase by 5 mills, to 30.28 mills.
The Finance Committee has been paring down the mayor's proposal, trying to get to a 2 percent tax increase, which would mean about a 0.5 mill increase. So far the committee has cut about $1.5 million from the proposal.
Ackley, who originally had proposed a $1.6 million increase in spending for her department, said $12 million is not enough to maintain an adequate level of policing in the city.
"No one's padding or funding a big fat budget here,'' Ackley told the committee Tuesday night. "These are all necessary items that must be filled. ... This is a bare-bones budget.''
Ackley had wanted funds to fill eight positions that are open and to reinstate a boating program, which was removed from the budget four years ago.
But Council President Michael Passero, who is chairman of the finance committee, said he has a responsibility to pass a budget based on how much revenue "we can reasonably bring in next year."
"We've been accused of living beyond our means,'' he said. "We are obviously running a government we can't afford. ... We're asking for a 2 percent cut in a $12 million budget.''
Passero added that the change in government in the middle of the fiscal year created budgetary problems for the current year and next year.
"But I don't want to incorporate those mistakes into next year's budget,'' he said.
Maynard was the first to recommend that the deputy chief position be eliminated. Passero agreed. Councilor Adam Sprecace was away on business and did not attend the meeting.
Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran, who attended the meeting, also agreed with cutting the deputy chief position. But Ackley said it would be a mistake to eliminate the position and predicted it would cost the department more money.
Councilor Wade Hyslop questioned the committee's recommendation to cut the position and said he sees it as micromanaging the department.
"I think we're usurping the authority of the mayor,'' Hyslop said.
But Passero responded that the council holds the purse strings for the city and has the authority to dictate the size of government, how much money will be spent and how it will be spent.
"I think we are exercising our authority,'' he said.
Councilor Donald Macrino said the council has no choice but to cut the budget and suggested the council cut the bottom line of the police budget and let the chief figure where to make the cuts.
"We have some real serious issues in town right now, and we have to resolve this,'' Macrino said. "To move forward, there have to be some compromises.''
Also at the meeting, several members of the public and of the union representing nurses at The William W. Backus Hospital asked the committee to save the department's K-9 unit. Finizio recommended last week that the department cut the K-9 unit as a way to save about $77,000.
Retired New London Police Capt. Kenneth Edwards was among those lobbying for the police dogs.
"Those dogs keep officers from doing some things that are very dangerous,'' Edwards said. "Police dogs save injuries to police officers and possibly save lives."
No action was taken Tuesday regarding the K-9 unit, which consists of two dogs and their handlers.