Council member Janice Woodruff sharply criticized how much Peabody spends on its police department but couldn’t derail proposals Monday to purchase a new patrol car and create a full-time court clerk position by stripping animal control duties from an existing hybrid position.
Chief Bruce Burke opened the door to Woodruff’s salvos when he discussed plans to replace a 2010 Crown Victoria with 121,000 miles — a car shared by one full-time officer and 11 part-timers.
A $9,000 to $11,000 carry-over from last year’s budget could be put toward a $25,346 new car, Burke said.
Council member Megan Gallucci said half the purchase price was included in the 2017 budget and that the city won’t be using $14,100 budgeted for health insurance for an unfilled position.
“That’s almost the entire car there in the 2017 budget,” she said. “On top of your ‘under’ for ’16, that more than pays for the car.”
Woodruff wasn’t convinced.
“I’m not in favor of it until we do some equipment in other places, because he’s had more equipment than any of the rest of them have had,” she said. “I would like to see it all where we could look at it and make a decision on all of it instead of just taking a chance.”
Woodruff appeared particularly concerned about needs expressed by public works superintendent Ronnie Harms.
“But all the money for Bruce’s vehicle is going to come from areas we budgeted for law enforcement vehicles,” Gallucci said. “There will be money for Ronnie’s stuff as well. I don’t think we’re going to penalize Bruce getting a cop car.”
“It’s not penalizing him,” she said. “We’ve penalized the other guys for years because of the police department getting more.”
Gallucci, a member of the finance committee, said neither Harms nor another public works employee she had talked to had given her budget requests after she initially asked for them a month ago.
“Ronnie doesn’t know the budgeting that he does, we’ve told you that,” Woodruff said.
“Ronnie’s a department head; that’s his job,” Gallucci said.
“Ronnie doesn’t know it,” Woodruff replied.
“I’m not going to fault Bruce for that,” Gallucci said.
Mayor Larry Larsen volunteered to spend time with Harms developing budget requests; and refocused discussion on the police car.
“Regardless of whether it’s $2,000 or $20,000 left over from ’16, that money is coupled with what we’re going to pay out in ’17, and the remainder of it is paid out in ’18,” he said. “Even though you may not know the exact figure of what he’s going to be under budget, whatever it will be will be a feather in our hat.”
Woodruff wasn’t moved.
“All I can say is you guys must not get the complaints that I get about the budget on the police department and how many fits I’ve seen thrown because of the new vehicles,” she said. “I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t get that slammed in my face, and that’s the truth. That’s why I fight it as much as I do, because that’s where I get the complaints. I don’t know that we’re fulfilling what the community wants.”
Council approved the purchase 3-2, with Woodruff and Tom Spencer opposed.
Round Two came when the council discussed revisions to the court clerk position held by Jylle Wilson. Court clerk and animal control officer have been combined in one position, but Burke said the deparment’s workload had increased to the point that the department needed a full-time clerk.
As enforcement of pet tag regulations begins in earnest March 1, Burke proposed splitting off animal control duties to a part-timer working 12 to 15 hours a week.
“I’m still going to say the police department is spending more money,” Woodruff said. “That department is getting out of hand. We spend more on the police department than the other departments practically put together. We just can’t keep it up. I don’t know how we can justify it.”
Gallucci said without a full-time court clerk, Burke would have to put in more overtime to process paperwork.
“When he retires he can give us notice a year out and still get paid for a year because he’ll have so much time,” she said. “We can’t ask him to do more work and not give him the people to do more work.”
“But this is a small town,” Woodruff said.
“I understand that,” Gallucci replied.
“Well, I’m not sure,” Woodruff said.
Council members approved offering the full-time clerk position to Wilson and looking for a part-time animal control officer. Woodruff and Spencer casting dissenting votes.