As part of the budget amendments to cut funds and lower the tax levy increase to the newly approved 3.03 percent, the township council approved, not unanimously, the introduction of an ordinance to eliminate three vacant police positions.
These positions are currently not filled, but, by ordinance, are required to be funded in case they are needed.
"At this point, we have three vacant police positions with no reason to fill them, so that includes a significant decrease in the budget," Councilman Howard Norgalis said. "This eliminates the three vacant police positions until such time as we need to readdress them."
Norgalis said Bridgewater Township Police Chief Richard Borden would like to have the positions funded in case they are needed, but understands the budget constraints that require them to be cut.
This change to the ordinance would open up about $144,000 to be used by the township for other purposes.
Councilman Matthew Moench questioned whether the township should instead look at better handling management and negotiations, particularly with regard to police overtime work.
"From my general standpoint, it's my opinion the township is better served by decreasing overtime, but increasing the number of officers on the street," he said. "It is better to have ones on salary on the streets, than paying for overtime."
Moench added that when overtime is doled out, the senior officers get first dibs, so the township is paying out the higher costs.
Moench suggested that maybe the council could eliminate only one of the positions accounted for in the ordinance, and leave the other two funded, then check back in next year to see if more officers are needed.
"I am not in favor of reducing officers by three," he said.
Norgalis said that part of the overtime costs paid by the township include for court appearances for officers who issue tickets.
"If he or she has to appear in court, no matter how many more officers we hire, that will not change," he said. "We have talked about reviewing the court coverage because we have four officers there when court is in session now."
"Other townships use alternate means, and that's where I think we as a township have to do more with less," he added.
Before the council takes final action on the ordinance, Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose said she wants to look into statistics of juvenile crime in the township. The chief, she said, once told her that if the positions could be filled they would be done with officers who could lead the D.A.R.E. program, serve as school resource officers or handle community policing.
"I don't have a problem with the positions not being filled, but by reducing the ordinance, once you lose something, it is very difficult to get it back," she said.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso said he would think it would make more sense to think about the current needs of the township, and eliminate the three funded positions, while taking the opportunity to relook at the ordinance in 2013 and determine if it is working.
For Council President Allen Kurdyla, he believes that the township needs to move forward, particularly in saving money.
"If our intent is not to fund three new positions, I think the ordinance should reflect that," he said. "We need to move forward, and if we have to work with less, we all have to work with less."
Public hearing concerning eliminating funding for the three police positions will be held May 21.