The Chief, the Mayor, and the Police Force

Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano has pondered how he would keep two officers per shift on the schedule with the impending loss of one officer, as proposed in the village’s 2013-14 budget. Carrie Ann Salvi

    Sag Harbor Village’s police chief, Tom Fabiano, pleaded yet again with Mayor Brian Gilbride on Tuesday evening to reconsider eliminating one officer from the force. The proposed village budget does away with the job. Should that in fact happen, said the chief, it would affect not only his department but “people that live, visit, go to school here, boat or drive here, have an event here, have a medical issue, fire, or criminal matter.”
    The budget was not on the village board’s agenda that night, and at press time a budget hearing had yet to be scheduled. The deadline for acceptance of the budget is May 1; the next village board meeting is not until May 14.
    “If it was truly about economic issues and the budget,” the chief said with some bewilderment, “there surely would be many more questions.”
    “Nobody has asked me how losing an officer adversely affects the department and the safety of the people in our village,” he told the board. “I wonder, how can you make an informed decision without this input.”    
    Citing a March 28 story in this newspaper, Chief Fabiano asked why Edward Gregory, a board member, had asked at a budget hearing a week earlier how it would affect the budget if the officer’s job was kept. “Why doesn’t he know that answer?” the chief asked, wondering if the board had had any discussion on the topic at all.
    “I am surprised that nobody is concerned about it, or doesn’t care about it,” said the chief. “It’s not like 100 guys. We have 11.”
    “The problem we have,” Mayor Gilbride responded, “is that there is a continuing escalating cost in both medical insurance and retirement. It’s nobody’s fault. . . . We have a 2-percent cap.”
    “We don’t have to adhere to that, replied Chief Fabiano. “The board can vote to go over that if need be.”
    Having already lost Officer Michael Gigante halfway through the last budget year after the mayor threatened to disband the entire force, Chief Fabiano said he wondered how the village, with only 10 officers, could stay safe. What with vacations, illnesses, personal time, disability, and event coverage, he said, it would be impossible to have two officers working per shift. And considering widespread predictions that this summer will be the busiest yet, he said, “This is no time to reduce the Police Department.”
    Mayor Gilbride suggested at a budget hearing on April 3 that two or three part-time officers be hired to fill the vacant positions. But part-time police officers are meant to supplement the force, Chief Fabiano told the board Tuesday, not to replace two full-time officers.
    “I’ve never heard what the magic number was that we need — what is it?” the chief asked. “I have [reviewed] my current budget, I told the mayor I am willing to make stops on anything I can possibly do to keep this position alive . . . I don’t know what I have to do, where to go, what to say, who to see. I ask you, what is the number?”
    Mayor Gilbride said police retirement expenses are increasing this year by a significant amount. “Medical has increased 10 or 12 percent for the last two years,” he said. “With no raises, there has still been a 21-percent increase. ”
    “I am not going to argue the numbers,” said the chief. “I’m here to save someone’s job.” Chief Fabiano said he had already found $90,000 he could cut if it would save the job of one of his officers. “With taking another guy out . . . I am going to need more overtime,” he said. “We will have to structure something like that,” said the mayor.
    Patrick Milazzo, the Police Benevolent Association’s representative, gave The Star an example in an e-mail yesterday of how a village resident would be affected should the 11th officer be retained. For a house assessed at $795,000, he  wrote, the tax cost of one officer “would be $51.52 per year, $4.28 per month, or 14 cents per day. Noteworthy I think, given the current discussion.”
    “This is nothing personal,” Mayor Gilbride told Chief Fabiano during Tuesday’s meeting. The chief disagreed. “You’ve made comments,” he said. “Let’s not go there.”
    At the tense April 3 budget hearing, Mayor Gilbride accused the chief of  “posturing.” “I’ll take it up with you tomorrow,” he said. The two met privately the next day, apparently to no avail.