Council Cuts $125K from Police Overtime Budget
The township council spent two hours Thursday night trying to figure out who authorized a policy change in 2012 that caused overtime costs to jump $187K
The Mahwah Township Council voted in front of a packed audience Thursday night to cut $100,000 from the 2013 police overtime budget, effectively reversing a policy decision that required police officers to be present at Tuesday night court proceedings.
A large part of the budget hearing on Thursday night was spent trying to determine who authorized a policy change in January 2012 that required police officers to attend court proceedings on Tuesday nights for the tickets they write out. During several rounds of questioning from council members, Police Chief Jim Batelli, Municipal Prosecutor Dennis Harraka, and Mayor Bill Laforet all denied approving the policy switch.
Laforet said that in a contract negotiation with the PBA in late 2011, he discussed changing another police court overtime procedure. According to Laforet, previously, police were paid a minimum of two hours of overtime for appearing in court, and for four hours of overtime if they were in court for any amount of time over two hours. Laforet said he negotiated with the PBA to knock down this “automatic two-four” rule, so that officers are paid for the amount of time they are in court, but did not negotiate a return to a policy asking officers to attend every court hearing.
Harraka told the council that he does not require the officers’ presence on Tuesday nights, since any cases that would require police testimony to be settled could be moved to Thursday nights, when officers are specifically summoned to court.
Some officials and members of the public expressed concerns that reversing the policy would lead to a drop in morale in the police department, and in turn a drop in tickets written, and revenue earned by the township from paid summonses.
According to officials, Mahwah spent about $237,490 on Tuesday court overtime in 2012, and made about $500,000 from ticket revenue, though council members disputed how much of that revenue was actually realized by the township.
After two hours of discussion Thursday night, the council voted to decrease the overtime budget to the PD by $100,000, to be taken from Tuesday night court appearances.
The council also voted to support a $25,000 budget reduction based on a recommendation from Batelli on how security procedures at court hearings could be changed to cut costs. According to council members, a separate township court committee would need to approve that change before it could go into effect.
Thursday night’s questioning was prompted by an increase in police overtime costs in 2012. According to township officials, OT in 2011 cost the township $327,000, and $514,000 in 2012.
The council made several changes to the proposed 2013 budget Thursday night that they said would decrease the municipal tax increase from 4.9% to about 3.5%. Continue to check Patch for details on other changes to the proposed budget the council voted on Thursday night.