Sag Harbor Police Force May Be Down to 10

Chief argues that further budget cuts would damage the department
Carrie Ann Salvi

    On March 19, the day before a meeting of the Sag Harbor Village Board to discuss the village’s budget, Police Chief Tom Fabiano said he had been “blindsided, once again” by Mayor Brian Gilbride’s proposal to lay off a full-time village police officer. “It destroys the schedule, it leaves us in a dangerous situation as to coverage, manpower,” he told The Star. “We lost one officer already,” he said, referring to Michael Gigante, who took a job with another force last year, fearing for the one he had.
    “Coming into the beginning of the summer season, there is no need for this,” said the chief.
    “I don’t like to be in this position,” the mayor said during the next day’s meeting, but “the numbers are the numbers.” He said the village had saved nothing by Mr. Gigante’s departure, although the chief disputes that.
    Public safety, the village’s largest expense, which includes police salaries, was cut 11.3 percent in the tentative budget, from $2.6 million in 2012-2013 to $2.3 million, a decrease of $295,704.
    With Mr. Gigante gone, Chief Fabiano said yesterday, the force is already down to 11. The 11th man, he said, fills in when others are on vacation, ill, or disabled. Having only 10 officers on the team, he said, would make that arrangement untenable.
    It is crucial, the chief said, to have two officers on per shift. “You can’t come into an empty headquarters off-hours with a prisoner and no backup.”
    Two weeks ago, for example, just outside the village on North Haven, Officer David Driscoll arrested a drunken driver who had his young child in the car. (Southampton Town police were too busy that night to respond to that report.) Soon after Officer Driscoll brought the driver to headquarters and as he awaited pickup of the child, another call came in. He could not have responded to it without a backup, he said last week.
    “If we kept an officer, how would that affect the budget?” asked Edward Gregory, a board member, at the March 20 meeting.
“We would probably go over the 2 percent cap,” responded Eileen Tuohy, the village treasurer.
    The police budget is “roughly 40 percent of the entire village budget,” said Mayor Gilbride. “It’s not so much what it’s costing us today, but the cost two, three, and four years down the road. . . . The last two years, with no increases in the police budget, the benefits, retirement, and medical has increased 21 percent.”
    “We’re allowed to go to 4.1 [percent.] “Right now, we are at 2.4,” the mayor said. “We can’t take any more out of it.”
    Adding to the difficulty is the lack of a current police contract, as Mayor Gilbride noted when Patrick Milazzo, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, asked the board to consider alternatives before letting an officer go. Robby Stein, a board member, agreed with the mayor. “We don’t know what the settlement numbers are,” he said.
    “The state said we need 13 officers,” said Mr. Milazzo, who asked that a committee be named — himself, Chief Fabiano, and a board member, he suggested — “to collaborate to see if we don’t have to remove a position.”
     “We have till June, we put a man on the moon, maybe we can make something happen,” Mr. Milazzo said. Neither Suffolk County nor East Hampton Town, even in dire financial straits, had ever let a police officer go, he added.
    “Nobody wants to see anybody lose his job,” said Mr. Gregory, but “we’re looking down the road . . . just because Suffolk County is stupid doesn’t mean we should be.” The mayor then told Mr. Milazzo his speaking time was up, as he is not a village taxpayer.
    Citing other concerns, such as Havens Beach remediation and dock repairs, Mr. Gilbride said, “Without any changes, this is where it’s going to be. We don’t have wiggle room.”
    Jeffrey Peters inquired about the addition of a part-time employee in the justice court, at a salary of $25,000.
    “The judge has requested a part-timer,” said Mayor Gilbride. “We brought the part-timer in.” He said the position, which Chief Fabiano said was usually staffed by the village police department, would be extended through the summer and into the off-season, adding that “the revenues from court offset that increase.”
    Mr. Peters also inquired about the elimination of a highway department position, originally budgeted at $36,000, which Mayor Gilbride confirmed. Mr. Peters congratulated the board for its efforts.
    Chief Fabiano, who was unable to attend the board meeting, submitted a letter asking that the village keep the 11th police officer’s job in the budget. “It is vital for the department’s staffing and scheduling needs,” he wrote. “There can be no dollar amount put on the value of safety, a life saved, and the quality of life we have all come to appreciate.”
    The general fund’s budget from early March showed $410,520 in expenditures for employee benefits, an 18.4 percent increase. In total, the general fund, which includes public safety, health services, transportation, culture and recreation, home and community service, and employee benefits, details a proposed 2.99 percent increase, from $5.8 million to $8.2 million.
    The sewer fund, which includes home and community services and is budgeted separately, has a projected increase of 3.44 percent, from $341,191 to $523,653.
    The tentative budget will be discussed, perhaps for the last time, at a public meeting on Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Village Hall.