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Council Debates Safety vs. Savings in Budget Talks

Police requests were reconsidered at final public hearing on municipal spending plan

The Parsippany Township Council, usually reliably unified in its decision-making, engaged in lively debate during the final public hearing on the proposed $61.7 million budget for 2012-13.

The agenda for the Saturday morning Town Hall gathering focused on administration department plus golf and sewer utility expenses, but the most contentious discussion came when Mayor James Barberio reopened .

Council Vice President Vincent Ferrara and members John Cesaro and Paul Carifi Jr. were especially vocal in suggesting various nips and tucks that could be made to the spending plan.

On the issue of police staffing, Ferrara took a hard line.

The councilman said he had "trouble" with Chief Anthony DeZenzo's plans to hire four new officers for the force. Of the requested new hires, two would be Step 2 officers paid $44,080 each, one would be a Step 3 officer to receive $50,036 and the fourth would be a Step 4 officer with a starting salary of $55,994.

Ferrara noted that by hiring Step 2 officers, the town put off having to pay out big seniority raises for seven years. With Step 3 or 4 officers, he said, higher payouts come within three years.

"It's an injustice to the taxpayers," Ferrara said. "Go to Step 2 or 3; I'd feel better."

Currently, there are 93 officers in a department that runs optimally on 110. According to Deputy Chief Paul Philipps, the four proposed new hires would not result in a staff increase as they would replace retiring officers.

In other words, the request to add four officers would serve only to maintain the status quo—and it does not take into consideration what happens if the force is further depleted by illness or injury.

On Tuesday, the chief said the budget request for four officers comes at a time when the PPD staff is at near-crisis levels. 

"[W]e're getting dangerously close to where service to the community is suffering," the chief said.

Mayor Barberio said experience was not something to ignore.

"With unions, it is not easy to hire new people," he said. "This is the only opportunity to hire from within. You get experience as well."

Councilman Michael dePierro agreed.

"If they can have some experience off the bat, you save [training] time," he said.

"But you save taxpayers' money," Ferrara countered.

Council President Brian Stanton stepped in with a way to save money and find experienced officers. He brought up the Rice Bill, a hiring list of county and local law enforcement officers laid off due to economic cutbacks. 

"If the Rice Bill is there, hire off of it," Stanton suggested. "[Officers looking for work] are eager to work and they'll be willing to come in at Step 2 and save us some money."

Barberio brought up the Tuesday council move to cut $28,000 from the police budget for a new unmarked car.

DePierro explained his vote to slash the money.

"Four captains getting $140,000 with gold-plated benefits... Let them take a [marked]  captain's car," he said. "It bugs me to see that."

The council conducted an informal straw poll to see where the body stood on the issue of restoring the $28,000 to the spending plan.

DePierro again voted no.

Ferrara expanded upon his no vote.

"I would not give them a car," he said. "I'll give them a car and take the $55,000 for a Step 3 or 4 out of the budget."

"I want to keep the officer," Cesaro said.

The mayor jumped in to add that the police fleet is in need of replenishment.

"Eventually we'll see a request for six or seven cars," he warned. "The mayor's in charge of the fleet. If I take those vehicles away, they will probably sue and probably win."

The council then shifted discussion to whether police captains respond to calls when they are off duty.

"They do," said Councilman Carifi, who also works for the Morris County Sheriff's Office and as a first responder. "I've been on [Community Emergency Response Team] calls where capitains have responded at two in the morning."

Brian Stanton, also with the county sheriff's office, concurred.

The mayor offered a different perspective.

"I go to a lot of calls and there are no captains there," Barberio said. "Depends on the kind of emergency."

As the discussion continued, the issue of bullets emerged. 

The mayor shared Police Chief DeZenzo's request to leave the ammunition request as is. The explanation given was that ammunition is "often backlogged ...  you can't get it when it's needed."

Carifi made a motion to trim $5,000 from the $10,208 request, $3,000 from .40 caliber ammunition and $2,000 from bullets for rifles.

"For the amounts I see of what they have in stock and based on how many officers they have, they'd still have plenty of ammo," he said. "There are 110 rounds [of .40 caliber bullets] needed per officer per qualification, 220 per year. There are 50 cases [of 1,000 rounds each] in stock. They're asking for 50 more [for a total of] 50,000 rounds."

Councilman dePierro said it would be prudent to maintain a year of ammunition in reserve.

The vote came down to a 3-2 split in favor of cutting 50 percent from the request for bullets. DePierro and Stanton voted against the cut.

This final public opportunity to have input into the budget, like the Tuesday session, had very few residents in attendance.

Township Business Administrator Jasmine Lim said the municipal budget for next year should be finalized in May.

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