At the Chestertown Council meeting Monday, June 17, Police Chief Adrian Baker reported that one of two recruits recently hired by the town has resigned to take a position with another nearby town.
Baker, who said he was “disappointed” by the resignation, said the town invested a good deal of time and money in training the recruit, and it was unclear how much the town could recoup, although the recruit had signed a contract. He said it appeared unlikely the town could recoup the recruit’s salary to date, although the expense of his academy training, including uniforms, equipment, and ammunition used in training was probably recoverable. He said the contract required the recruit to pay the town “a certain amount of money” within 30 days if he left the department early.
Baker said that other chiefs in the area told him there was strong competition for qualified recruits. He said there used to be a “gentleman’s agreement” that towns wouldn’t “steal the guy next door,” but that no longer held true. One agency on the Shore is paying a $10,000 bonus to officers who will sign on, Baker said. He said he would try to find ways to prevent such an occurrence in the future, but it was by no means unique to his department.
He said had been very pleased with the council’s decision several months ago to fund hiring two new officers to bring the force up to a total of 14. He asked whether the council wanted to authorize him to hire another certified officer to return the force to 14, or to stay at the current total of 13.
“My inclination is to stay with 13,” said Mayor Chris Cerino. “I feel like we’ve been operating at 12, actually, for several months now.” He added, “We’ve basically paid for this guy to take a job with another department.” Cerino noted that the police department is a very large fraction of the town’s budget and that the town is facing a very tight budget year.
Councilman Marty Stetson, a former town police chief, said that when times get better, the additional officer could be restored to the force’s budget. He said that the town would probably have to make the same decision not to replace someone who left the street department, “under the restraints we have now.”
Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said that the town should not reduce the police department’s budget in case they found they need another officer.
Cerino said that in view of the fact that the budget was so tight, “I would rather look at this as a cost savings,” giving the town a $50,000 cushion. He said that if one of the town’s revenue projections falls short, or if an unexpected expense arises, the money could be critical in balancing the books. He noted that none of the town staff is receiving a raise this budget year.
Kuiper then asked that the money budgeted for the new officer be put in a restricted fund, to be expended only by an explicit council vote.
Councilman David Foster said that if he had known the state of the town’s finances when he voted to send two recruits to the academy, he might well have voted to send only one. He said the town should postpone any decision on whether to replace the recruit until it had a better idea whether it was above or below its projected expenses.
Stetson said that if the town had a surplus at the end of the year, he would like to see the employees get “a decent raise,” especially the ones who have stayed with the town over a period of years. He said he would recommend that the town freeze hiring except if it needed to replace an essential employee such as the police chief.
Baker said that he understood the financial constraints. However, he asked that if another officer leaves, that the town consider maintaining the force at 13.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he considered 13 “an ideal compromise.” He said it has been hard for the town to retain 12 officers consistently. Ingersoll said it was important for the town to have “a little cushion” for contingencies. The amount saved by not replacing the officer is “a payday and a half” in terms of the overall budget, he said. He said the town should be angry at a neighboring town “poaching” its recruits. He compared it to “heading up to the maternity ward and taking somebody’s baby right after they’ve delivered.” He said the town had paid the recruit’s salary and benefits for four months “when they’re really absolutely not doing anything for the police department other than going to school.” He said the recruit had only been available for the Tea Party festival.
Baker said the town could have lost still more money if the recruit had stayed to complete field training, which he said is very labor intensive. He said he appreciated the council’s consideration of his query whether to remain at 13 officers or seek another recruit.
Kuiper made a motion to put the officer’s $42,000 plus the $5,000 academy costs that would be refunded into a restricted fund so it isn’t expended without an explicit council vote. She said it would be equivalent to the $200,000 paid for the armory by Washington College, which was placed in a restricted fund to be used only for waterfront infrastructure projects.
Cerino said he didn’t think the funds needed to be restricted. He said they should be available in case of an unanticipated shortfall of revenue or expense, such as needing to purchase a truck. “It’s there in case we have unexpected costs,” he said.
Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he worried that the money might be spent piecemeal over a period of time without being specifically accounted for. “It’s gone, and we don’t know where it went,” he said. He seconded Kuiper’s motion.
Stetson said that if anyone exceeded their budget they already need to come to the council for additional funds.
After some discussion about what the restriction would apply to, the council voted 3-2 against the motion to restrict the funds, with Kuiper and Tolliver voting in favor.
Also at the meeting, the council approved three resolutions supporting local businesses applying for Enterprise Zone income tax credits for creating new full-time jobs. Dixon Valve plans to add 10 jobs at its four locations; Dixon Valve Group plans to add one new job at each of two different locations; and Kent Athletic and Wellness Club plans to add one new job at each of two locations. The resolutions were approved unanimously.
Cerino, in his mayor’s report, nominated Rob Busler to fill a vacancy on the Planning Commission and the Rev. Charles Barton to fill a vacancy on the Historic District Commission. The council will vote on the nominations at its next meeting, July 1.