Village Board’s Budget Leaves Cops Short

The $8.78 million budget reflects a 2.57-percent increase over last year’s
David Driscoll, center, the Sag Harbor Police Department’s 2012 officer of the year, with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, left, and Chief Tom Fabiano

   With little public discussion of the matter among Sag Harbor Village Board members or residents, two police officer positions were written out of the village budget in a meeting last Thursday morning.
    As the newest hire, David Driscoll, who was honored in January as the department’s officer of the year, will be off the force at the end of May, to the chagrin of Police Chief Tom Fabiano, who voiced his disapproval and disappointment before, during, and after the meeting. The other position had been filled by Officer Michael Gigante, who left the department in December because of Mayor Brian Gilbride’s threat to use police from neighboring towns to patrol the village.
    The $8.78 million budget reflects a 2.57-percent increase over last year’s. It was adopted unanimously by the board of Mayor Gilbride, Deputy Mayor Edward Gregory, Kevin Duchemin, and Robby Stein.
    Any reduction in the number of officers will limit the ability to respond to emergency calls, Chief Fabiano said at an April 3 hearing, adding in an interview on Friday that he was sickened by the process and the outcome. He is concerned about filling the shifts, which is a challenge already, he said, with vacations, sick days, and disability. The remaining 10 officers on patrol include Jeff Proctor, a detective whose investigation time is usually not considered part of the on-the-street force, Chief Fabiano said.
    At last Thursday’s meeting, and repeatedly in interviews, Chief Fabiano said he was frustrated that no board member had discussed with him how the reduction would affect the safety of the village and his officers, from a lack of backup for one-man shifts to slower response times.
    Contract negotiations between the village and the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association have been unsuccessful for almost two years, and the matter is now in arbitration. Patrick Milazzo, a village police officer and P.B.A. representative, told The Star in an e-mail that if Mayor Gilbride’s assessment of the cost of an officer is correct, $187,000 per year including retirement and benefits, an average resident would pay $51.52 per year, or $4.28 per month, to keep that officer.
    Overtime, which, Chief Fabiano said at a March meeting, had already reached around $60,000 with one officer out, could be as much as $300,000, he estimated last Thursday.
    Mayor Gilbride disagreed with the figure, and with the fact that the reduction would regularly affect a two-person shift.
    “Medical has increased 10 or 12 percent for the last two years, with no raises,” Mayor Gilbride said at the April 3 hearing, suggesting that the void be filled with part-time officers and, if need be, overtime.
    Officer Driscoll went above and beyond his duties as a police officer, he told The Star on Tuesday. In addition to his work with Suffolk County’s East End D.W.I Task Force, he initiated projects that included state grants to buy child-safety seats, his certification as a technician to assist parents and caregivers in their proper installation, and providing seats at no charge to those who can’t afford them.
    Officer Driscoll worked on bicycle patrol in the summer months. He acquired free bike helmets for kids in need, and instructed students at the Sag Harbor Elementary School in their use.
    Chief Fabiano said yesterday that he wished Mayor Gilbride had tried to reduce expenses in the budget, “instead of just cutting two positions.”