NL council stalls on contingency fund use for new police contract

New London - The City Council continues to search for a proper funding source to pay for a new police contract without sacrificing growth at the department.

The council has so far balked at the idea of taking the $425,000 needed to fund increases in the new contract out of a contingency fund. It tabled the request by a 5-1 vote on Monday despite approving the contract and associated expenses more than a month ago. Councilor Anthony Nolan, a New London police officer, abstained from the vote.

Council member Michael Passero said using the contingency account money would deplete the more than $202,000 set aside to fund the three new officer positions, which is part of an overall goal to boost the ranks of the department back up to 80 officers. Numerous vacancies over the past few years have left the department with about 65 officers.

The three new police recruits are currently at the police academy but are not expected to hit the streets until late next year. Their salaries are paid from the police department budget with money left over from the vacant positions.

The council previously had set aside money in the contingency account specifically to fund new hires in various city departments. Along with the new officers, the $719,407 set aside in the account was earmarked for a facility engineer, plumber, grant writer and police detective and associated benefits.

A finance department analysis of the contingency account shows that money so far has been being used for other purposes. Just part of one of the eight positions, the risk manager, was funded out of the account. Money was spent instead on overtime, a fire grant and pension increases.

Passero said that taking $425,000 out of the $586,000 remaining balance in the account would eliminate funding for the new officers.

"I'm not prepared to abandon the goals we set when establishing the contingency fund," he said.

Erica Richardson said the council had in part put itself in the predicament by creating the contingency fund and not properly budgeting the salary increases into the police budget.

"A contingency fund is nothing more than a slush fund for the city. Every time there is a shortfall, it's going to get dipped into," Richardson said. "It's like someone's personal savings account."

Finance Director Jeff Smith said there is no additional money in the police budget to fund the contract. An account of spending of the police budget from the last fiscal year is not expected until at least February.

Smith said the contract would be funded, likely from the general fund, if the council makes no move. Councilors said they anticipate the contract funding would be approved, but they plan to seek alternative funding methods if possible.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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