Voters reconcile police overspending in Old Lyme
Old Lyme — The second time was the charm Monday night, as voters at a town meeting endorsed a $42,000 appropriation to cover overspending on police and rangers.
The initial request was rejected in a 9-5 vote by eligible taxpayers at an Aug. 16 town meeting due to insufficient information about the reasons for the overspending.
This time, more than 60 people were checked into the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School auditorium. Taxpayers enthusiastically endorsed the appropriation, which covers police overtime and ranger staffing costs that have been paid out but need to be reconciled in the budget. Only one voice could be heard in opposition when the question was called.
Board of Finance Chairman David Kelsey stood up before the vote to explain a brief document outlining the numbers and the rationale.
Police overspent line items for overtime, beach rangers and parking enforcement by $95,489, according to the document. But the increase was offset by underspending in other line items of the police budget.
The total overage came in at $40,507, though Kelsey said the town is asking voters to approve a round $42,000 because there may be some "additional items that come in ex post facto."
The town anticipates a $25,000 reimbursement from the federal government for expenses related to Tropical Storm Isaias and the coronavirus pandemic, according to Kelsey.
Overages related to the rangers included $20,000 for pandemic-related expenses such as staffing in the Sound View Beach area amid capacity restrictions and a presence at Town Hall when visitors were not allowed to enter the building. There was also an overage of $4,000 for Sound View parking enforcement after selectmen this year voted to shut the gates to the municipal lot at 7:30 p.m. It had been closed at 6:30 p.m. last year amid the pandemic.
In the overtime category, Kelsey said the overage was driven by an effort by Resident State Trooper Matt Weber to ensure proper staffing when residents needed it.
Weber started in February 2020 as the resident state trooper from the state police barracks in Westbrook, responsible for overseeing Old Lyme's six officers.
The finance board chairman pointed to the Sound View Beach area as one of the areas identified by Weber for increased coverage.
"If we've got two folks on a Saturday in the summer, that doesn't work," Kelsey said. "Four folks is what we properly need."
He said Weber also pointed out the need for a larger police overtime budget to ensure coverage when officers can't report to work due to medical reasons.
"Going forward, we are going to have an increase in the budget that simply accommodates for the potential of health issues for our existing officers," he said.
The budget document included $11,000 in overtime expenses due to Tropical Storm Isaias and $6,000 resulting from the pandemic.
Kathleen Tracy, a Sound View Beach resident who in 2018 filed a pending lawsuit against the Miami Beach Association based on beach access issues, had complained the initial town meeting was "unorganized" from start to finish.
She said on Monday she appreciated the additional information provided to voters that they didn't get the first time around.
"And that is the reason why many of us voted this down, because we did not have this information," she said. "It's not that we don't want to spend the money on police coverage that is necessary."
But she questioned whether the extra coverage is necessary at Sound View Beach based on what she described as a lower volume of visitors these days. "We've survived with less police in the past, and now we have so much more with fewer people. It seems like we should revisit that," she said.
Other residents have long complained about behavior in the public beach area adjacent to a bar and a restaurant, citing public intoxication, fights, littering and other acts.
Sound View Commission Chairman Frank Pappalardo spoke in support of this year's coverage by police and rangers.
"Our new resident state trooper has done a very, very good job at managing the public safety down at Sound View Beach area this year," Pappalardo said. "I think the training for the rangers was very well done and the rangers were very professional in their role this year. I think they're on the right track."
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