The Village Board of Trustees and Mayor Ed Blundell are asking the Red Hook Police Department for a 10 percent cut in spending in the upcoming budget.
The department currently has a budget of just over $400,000 per year, which represents 23 percent of the total village spending.
At a packed public hearing in the Village courtroom April 19, Police Chief Jim Truitt contended that the cuts cannot be made evenly across all budget lines and said that the $40,000 reduction would mean a 16.4 percent decrease in the $265,000 salary line.
Two other officers laid out what a 10 percent reduction could mean to the audience packed with representatives from the police and fire departments, as well as dozens of residents of both the village and town.
Sergeant Patrick Hildenbrand outlined what the cut might mean in terms of patrol coverage.
“Currently, we patrol 16-hour days, 8am-4pm and 4pm-midnight,” he said, and speculated that a budget cut could mean the department cutting normal patrols from 7pm-midnight.
Officer Mike Brown added that he and other officers have already taken a $4/hour pay cut from last year.
According to the mayor, the police department is projected to go over budget this fiscal year and the village is also attempting to find funding to make up for missed payments to the Red Hook Volunteer Fire Company in 2006 and 2009, compounding the budget issues.
“We sent a memo to police management concerning repurposing,” Blundell said at the hearing , “asking if there was something we could do within the parameters we are facing in terms of 2 percent tax caps, old debts we have to pay off and pension mandates. We only have a limited pool of money, and we have to allocate it to where we think it serves best.”
Blundell also said that the board was only considering a moderate budget reduction for the police and that there was no proposal to disband or otherwise render the department ineffective. He mentioned that, he said, to combat what he called persistent rumors that the cuts were to be far deeper than those actually proposed.
Todd Baright, a Red Hook resident and local business owner, gave a presentation that suggested residents were overpaying for police services.
“I know some people say you can’t put a price on safety and I agree with that,” he said. “But I also believe that we need to come to terms with a reasonable compromise.” He displayed a chart that showed, as a proportion of the overall tax base, the Red Hook police budget was significantly higher than in comparable municipalities.
“We have half the tax assets of Fishkill and Rhinebeck, but we spend the same amount of money on our police departments,” Baright said. He also took issue with the projected police budget overages, saying that “it shows disrespect for the budget, disrespect for the Village trustees and disrespect for the taxpayer.”
Bard College’s Director of Security Ken Cooper and Father Patrick Buckly of St. Christopher’s Church both outlined how the village police have helped their respective communities in the past and commented on the value of a local police force that maintains ties to the community that it serves.
Several residents also commented on positive experiences with the police and offered suggestions such as reducing the number of police vehicles or sharing the cost of the police more evenly between village and town residents.
Currently, the town pays the village police for limited patrols outside the village and has recently moved to cut that budget as well. In the 2012 adopted budget, the town police protection was cut by $7,124 representing about 10% as well. Like the village, the town is covered by the sheriff’s department and state troopers as well. The Village of Tivoli does not have its own police force.
The mayor asked that the police not publicly speculate on exact details of the cuts because the department had not yet provided the board with an official budget proposal incorporate the cuts.