But critics note 10 percent increase since 2018
After several weeks of confusion, the proposed 2021 budget for the Beacon Police Department is about $6,500 more than the nearly $5.9 million the city expects to spend on the department this year.
The proposed overall budget, created while the city and other municipalities face uncertainties about how much money they will receive from the state because of the pandemic’s effect on the economy, forgoes about $186,000 in revenue by not raising taxes to the maximum allowed by a state tax cap. Beacon may need to withdraw more than $2 million from its reserves to cover the shortfall.
The budget also includes $20,000 for the Recreation Department for “community investment,” $70,000 to possibly hire a mental-health caseworker to assist the police and $50,000 for additional pandemic-related expenses.
A public hearing on the budget, which anticipates $22.2 million in general-fund spending, is scheduled for Nov. 16. The hearing also will cover the water and sewer funds, which are budgeted separately and each show 2 percent increases.
However, since Beacon Mayor Lee Kyriacou introduced the budget on Oct. 5, virtually all of the discussion has revolved around police spending.
When compared to the 2020 budget, spending on the police shows a $352,000, or 6 percent, increase. That request was criticized by residents who called or emailed city officials and prompted a group of demonstrators, many representing Beacon 4 Black Lives, to protest outside of Kyriacou’s home two weeks ago while the mayor conducted a City Council meeting inside by videoconference.
During the same meeting, City Administrator Anthony Ruggiero told the council that the 2020 budget did not include police officers’ current salaries. Because the city was negotiating a contract with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the officers’ union, when the budget was prepared, the city used 2018 salary figures.
Ruggiero and Finance Director Susan Tucker brought revised numbers to the City Council on Monday (Oct. 26), showing that 2020 spending and the proposal for next year are virtually identical when the new contract is figured in. The city had included some of this year’s anticipated police spending in its contingency fund, which is “the normal course of budgeting” when a union contract is in limbo, Tucker said.
For 2021, “we were trying to keep not only the police, but all budgets, as lean and flat as possible,” Ruggiero said.
Notwithstanding that explanation, a relatively “flat” police budget misses the mark, said Paloma Wake, a representative of Beacon 4 Black Lives, which has held weekly rallies and public forums on law enforcement, education and other issues since the summer.
“The police do not make us safer, and in many critical cases cause great harm,” Wake said. “Meeting the actual needs of the community — like reliable municipal broadband, a proper community center and activity spaces, veterans’ services, seriously resourced mental health services and more — are what make our community safer.”
The 2021 budget, she said, still represents a more than $500,000, or 10.5 percent, increase in police spending since 2018.
On Monday, Acting Police Chief Sands Frost explained the department’s budget in greater detail to the council, noting that implicit bias and procedural justice training sessions, both newly required by an order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will cost $26,000.
The department is also charged $5,000 by the Village of Fishkill to use its shooting range for training. Frost hopes to relocate to the Fishkill Correctional Facility’s range, which would be free, but could be difficult to schedule because of heavy usage.
Several officers are on workers’ compensation leave, forcing other officers to work overtime to meet contractually obligated minimum staffing requirements, he said.
In addition, the city is eliminating the K-9 program and does not plan to replace any police vehicles next year, Ruggiero said, while Kyriacou reiterated that, at $272 per resident, Beacon spends the least, per capita, on law enforcement among cities in the Mid-Hudson region, according to state data. Newburgh, the next-closest in the region, spends $308 per resident.
Referring to the Police Department’s budget, the mayor said: “If we’re looking for fluff, it’s probably not there.”
The City Council is scheduled to meet with the heads of the highway, water and sewer departments on Nov. 12 to discuss their budget needs.