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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Aldermen to propose $250k resolution to ease police budget woes

NASHUA – Seven aldermen are sponsoring legislation to resolve police budget woes that have pulled resource officers out of schools and limited some special unit patrols on city streets.

Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire plans on proposing a resolution at a full board meeting Tuesday that would transfer up to $250,000 out of the city’s welfare account and into the police department’s budget.

“I’m not in favor any of these cuts,” Wilshire said Friday. “We took SROs out of our high schools, and we are taking officers out of the POP Unit when we need them for patrols, and taking traffic enforcement out of that role to do patrols, and I think those are important functions and things citizens of Nashua want to see.”

Co-sponsors for the resolution include Aldermen-at-Large Jim Donchess and Barbara Pressly, and Aldermen Diane Sheehan, Ward 3; Kathy Vitale, Ward 1; June Caron, Ward 7; and Dan Moriarty, Ward 9, Wilshire said.

Police Chief John Seusing and police commissioners are expected to meet with aldermen Tuesday to discuss the shortfall. It first came to light during the board’s last meeting, when Donchess questioned a letter the department had sent Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and board President Brian McCarthy on Feb. 3 that had projected an overtime shortfall of $300,000-$350,000 in the police budget.

Last week, Seusing said the department was on pace to overspend its budget by as much as $200,000.

Seusing could not be reached for comment Friday.

After meeting with Lozeau about a month ago, Seusing put two of the department’s four high school SROs on normal patrol duty, and the department diverted officers from the Traffic Enforcement and Problem Oriented Policing units to regular patrols as needed.

News of the budget strains came as no surprise for the police department and some city officials, however.

In June, Lozeau called for spending cuts of 3 percent in nearly every city division except for schools, as the city faced rising employee pension and health insurance costs, reduced state aid, and shrinking municipal revenue.

The police department took a 3 percent budget decrease for this fiscal year, even though it had proposed an increase.

“Back during the budget process, I looked at the welfare department, which had been overfunded by $500,000 the last three years, and I put in a motion to take it out,” Alderman-at-Large David Deane said Friday. “We wanted to use it for police and fire overtime … but by the time the dust settled, nothing ever happened. People figured that that was the overtime contingency area.”

Wilshire was one of the aldermen who had been in favor of that transfer, which is why she is bringing her latest proposal to the table.

“We’ve cut $1 million out of (the police) budget in the last two years, and they said to us at some point it’s going to affect services,” Wilshire said. “I agreed with them, and I supported them to the end, but to no avail. I did not win that battle, and it’s too bad, because it was foreseeable.”

Wilshire said she has heard a number of complaints from residents concerned about school safety.

“They want (the SROs) back in there,” Wilshire said. “They want to be able to send their kids to school and know the schools are going to operate as safely as they have been, and not the last three months of the year, ‘Whoops, we’ve run out of money,’ and we don’t have the SROs there.”

She added that during three crime watch meetings this week, residents cited traffic problems.

“As summer picks up, I’m sure we’ll hear more traffic complaints,” Wilshire said. “It’s huge in this city … cars flying by, people blowing through red lights. We should not be looking to put fewer enforcement officers out there.”

Questions as to why the board was never informed about the budget strains have swirled since Donchess first requested to see the Police Department’s letter last week.

Lozeau and McCarthy have said they never relayed the letter to aldermen because the chief and commissioners had not requested any action from the board.

“It would’ve been nice to have received the letter,” Deane said. “The idea of the chief not requesting any action of the board doesn’t really hold water. Maybe he didn’t, but at least it was an update that there was a potential for some issues. It would’ve been nice to get it.”

Upon receiving Seusing’s communication in February, Lozeau said she immediately met with the chief, the commissioners and the city’s chief financial officer to work out a solution to the problem. But because it concerned an account projection, and not a budget deficit, it did not require her to go to the board about it, she said.

“The police leadership team is not leading this discussion saying, ‘We need more money,’ ” Lozeau said Monday. “The number wasn’t as big as they thought it was going to be.”

Lozeau and McCarthy have said the shifts in police patrols have not jeopardized public safety.

“Our streets are safe. Our schools are safe,” Lozeau said.

Tuesday’s meeting will give the board the chance to hear firsthand from Seusing and police commissioners about what the department needs.

“They’ll speak to what the amount is,” McCarthy said Friday. “If the funds are needed, then the board will support putting them in there.”

Wilshire said she hopes to get the resolution through the budget committee and back to the full board as quickly as possible within the city’s process. To pass, it would require 10 votes from the full board in favor.

“My thing is not going to be point fingers,” Wilshire said. “It’s not, ‘Who’s to blame?’ It’s ‘Let’s fix this issue that is before us,’ because we’re taking cops out of schools and off the POP unit and traffic patrols. … Let’s fix it. Period.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).