Weare residents scrutinize money for police department in nearly eight-hour deliberative session

Monitor staff
Last modified: 2/7/2016 12:51:52 AM
The Weare Police Department is requesting an increase in officer salaries, money to hire three additional officers and the purchase of five new police cruisers.

These requests are on the warrant that Weare residents will vote on in March, but voters took the time to question these articles and others at Saturday morning’s deliberative session, which lasted nearly eight hours.

Police Chief Sean Kelly said the increase in officer pay is necessary to compete with surrounding towns. The board of selectmen agrees with the chief and recommended the article.

“We are rebuilding a police department,” selectmen Vice Chairman Tom Clow said. “We have to support this department and build on what has been accomplished.”

The department has weathered controversy over the last few years. Former police Chief John Velleca resigned in October 2014, just a year after being sworn in, amid claims that he assaulted and had a romantic relationship with his secretary. Another officer, Kim McSweeney, resigned in December facing accusations of abusing a burglar during an arrest. Ken Cox, who is accused of abuse in the same case, was demoted from sergeant to patrol officer after a failed sting operation in 2013 left a suspected drug dealer dead.

Such incidents have residents wanting to take a closer look at the department and how it spends its money. The warrant article calling for increases in officer salaries and benefits is a two-year agreement between the town and the New England Police Benevolent Association. The first year would be an estimated increase of $25,346, and the second would be $30,538. These figures take into account unspent money from the previous deal. Residents amended the article to show the real cost ($28,117 in 2016, $35,868 in 2017).

This article, number 12 on the warrant, has an estimated tax impact of about 3 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Earlier in Saturday’s meeting, Weare resident Travis Corcoran said he was concerned with putting more money into the police department while it continues to draw high liability insurance rate. This came while the forum discussed Article 11, the operating budget, which was being amended.

Clow chimed in and tried to move the debate along.

“We have to move on,” he said. “Liability insurance costs are due not to the people there now, but people there in the past. This department is not (generating) the expenses, but holding ground at what we have.”

The discussion on the police department did not end there.

Articles 20 and 21 call for the addition of three full-time officers to the force and the purchase of five new cruisers, respectively.

Kelly’s reasoning behind adding three officers to the roster is in response to “what I have heard in the community. Residents ask me when it will be a 24-hour force,” he said.

Currently, the department does not staff enough officers to cover the shift between 3 and 7 a.m. For now, state police respond to calls in the area during those hours, but Kelly said staffing the shift with local officers will cut down on response time.

Adding the positions would cost about $116,745, with an estimated tax impact of 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property.

Even if this article passes, the money might not be spent if the department can’t fill the positions. Despite the request to add positions, the department has openings it is struggling to fill with “qualified candidates,” Kelly said. Finding such candidates has not been so easy, he said, adding that two recently hired officers came from a pool of more than 100.

Aside from staffing, the department is asking for five new police cruisers to rotate into the fleet and sell its oldest vehicles.

Marc Phillips, a Weare auto mechanic, works on the department’s vehicles and attested the older cars in the fleet are developing rust. He said the only vehicle in good shape is the Ford Explorer, which the department bought two years ago.

The purchase-lease agreement comes with an escape clause and would cost about $124,500. The first year would see a cost of about $91,500, including the purchase of police equipment for the cruisers. This article has an estimated tax impact of about 11 cents per $1,000 assessed property value.

Operating budget

An amendment almost cut the proposed operating budget by $129,540, but was shut down in a secret ballot vote, 43-31.

The budget will appear on the ballot as it stands, asking voters to approve a $5.52 million budget. If it is rejected, the default of $5.41 million would take effect.

The proposed budget carries an estimated tax impact of $3.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The default has an estimated tax impact of about $3.15 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Voting takes place March 8 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Weare Middle School.


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