Written March 20, 2011     

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© 2016 Bob Lonsberry

Mt. Morris  

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The Mount Morris Village Board has written and approved tentative budgets which have no property-tax increase, no water-rate increase and no sewer-fee increase.

The rates in all portions of the village budget will be the same next year as they were last year.

That was our goal when we set out, and we worked hard to achieve it.

The thinking of Mayor Harold Long and Trustees Joel Mike, Frank Provo, Jim Murray and myself was that with the crisis in the state budget, and likely large tax increases from the school and possibly the county, the village had to hold the line.

That required cuts.

Deep cuts.

Automatic or mandated increases in wages, insurance and pension-fund contributions – none of which we can control – ripped the guts out of our budget. They dramatically increased costs. The only way to keep from passing those costs on to taxpayers was cut village spending in other areas.

Those cuts were significant.

In some departments, they approached 30 percent.

But we saw it as our duty to keep the village government affordable. We believed we had a duty to taxpayers that was more important than any other consideration.

The deepest cuts were in the highway department and the police department. That is because those two departments are our largest. The highway department took a hard hit last year, in terms of funding for projects, and will be on an even shorter leash this year.

The police department is by far the biggest portion of our budget. In 2006, when the vote was taken on keeping the department, it took up about a third of the village budget. Now it is almost two-thirds of the village budget, and is likely to keep growing at that rate.

In the past, we have accommodated this by cutting spending in other areas. This year that was not possible.

This year, in order to avoid a tax increase, we had to reduce the police department’s budget for part-time officers by 30 percent.

That is a substantial hit and it will mean that the village’s part-time officers will work fewer hours and, consequently, earn less pay.

That is unfortunate, but necessary.

Last year, we asked the department for ideas on how to reduce hours and control costs. No viable suggestions were received, and the number of hours actually increased.

We could not afford for that to happen again, so as a village board we used our budgeting authority to rein in costs.

This does not mean the village will go unpoliced. Even with these reductions, there is enough money in the budget for full 24/7 staffing and adequate overtime.

There has been discussion lately about what the police department calls the D Shift, a second officer for late Friday and Saturday nights. The mayor – with the support of the village board – has directed the police chief to – in the new fiscal year – use state DWI money to staff a one-officer DWI patrol late Friday and Saturday nights.

That officer will be looking for drunk drivers, but will naturally also be available should the main patrol officer need backup in an officer-safety situation.

That arrangement will target drunk drivers at the time they are most likely to be out, protect officer safety by having two on-duty officers in the village, and it will use state money to help pay for our village police department.

Another issue involving the police department relates to what the police chief has identified as the B Shift. That is the weekday shift worked currently by our patrol sergeant.

From a managerial standpoint, most of us on the village board have been troubled for some time by the fact that our chief and sergeant – our top officers and two of the village’s highest-paid employees – work essentially the same days at the same time.

It hasn’t made sense that nights and weekends – when police protection might seem to be more needed – we’ve had our less-experienced non-command officers working. Some residents have commented on this and the village board has discussed this with the police chief repeatedly during my two years on the board.

The response has always been that there is nothing that can be done about it, as the sergeant – by virtue of seniority under the police contract – is able to have first pick of shifts, and he has picked the day shift.

This has been frustrating. The reason for having a village police department – as opposed to using the sheriff’s road patrol – is to retain control of police activities by local elected officials. The goal is to have a police department that is responsive to local people and their priorities. To a certain extent, that has not been the case in Mount Morris.

Last week, however, a way forward was found. It turns out that each year, under the contract, police shifts can be changed. Learning this, the village board passed a resolution requesting the mayor to direct the police chief to eliminate the B Shift. Only the mayor can give the chief an order and the board asked him to do so.

Mayor Long immediately gave the order to the chief, directing him to eliminate the full-time B Shift. As a practical matter, that means the sergeant will have to put in for a shift at some other time of the day or week, meaning that our two supervisory officers will now be working at different times.

The vote was 3-1 with Jim Murray opposing and Frank Provo, Joel Mike and I supporting. Trustee-elect Joe Christiano, who was in attendance, said he supported it as well.

In the budget process, the board also agreed to reduce trustees’ pay by 10 percent. At the suggestion of Mayor Long, the reduction was made annually renewable – meaning it will have to be voted on each year – and each trustee was allowed to designate where the money from his pay cut would go.

Joel Mike said he wanted his to go to pay for flowers in the Main Street planters. I said I wanted mine to be used to purchase medals of valor for Officer Sam Maggio III and streets Foreman Chris Young for going into a burning building in an attempt to save a trapped child, and for the remainder to be used to start a fund to buy the police department a service rifle.

In a perfect world, there would be plenty of money. But in the real world, every dime we spend has to be taken out of the taxpayers’ pockets. In the real world, our duty is to keep taxes down, and this year that meant cutting to the bone.

We worked long and hard to do that without firing anybody.

Some employees will be angry. Some unions may try to fight us. Some residents will be upset by the trimming of programs or services.

But nobody will have a village tax increase.

And the water and sewer rates will remain the same.

And that’s a lot better than any other level of government is going to do this year.

- by Bob Lonsberry © 2011

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