LACEY TOWNSHIP - Police Chief William Nally pitched the Township Committee a budget Wednesday night that included four new police officers.
"I know that's probably not feasible," Nally acknowledged. Still, he hoped the committee would at least allow him to replace retirees and keep the force at 46 officers, where it started 2010.
But as Nally discovered, that's probably not feasible, either.
"The likelihood of hiring any officers this year is going to be very, very slim," Mayor Gary Quinn told Nally, one of several department heads to present to the committee Wednesday. "Certainly our intent is not to lay off any officers or any other township employees, but we have to find a way to close a $3.1 million budget gap. It's absolutely nothing personal."
Nally was among several police chiefs who publicly urged Stafford Township not to lay off five officers March 31, as it ultimately decided to do.
At about $6 million, the Police Department's budget is the largest in the township.
Based on police academy schedules, Nally said, he would not be able to bring on new officers until the end of 2011 if none is approved in this budget. That would translate to, at most, 42 officers by the end of this year, close to the staffing level in place 20 years ago, he said.
"It's difficult to envision us functioning with 39 or 40 police officers in 2011 and 2012. Something's got to give," Nally said. "I don't want to discuss publicly the limitations of the Police Department, for obvious reasons, but I'm concerned about our ability to proactively do things that need to be done."
Deputy Mayor Mark Dykoff emphasized he was not criticizing Nally's spending before he asked the chief whether he could cut costs by distinguishing between "needs" and "wants."
Nally noted that either sworn police officers or special officers are present at every township meeting and function, as well as some busy church functions, at no charge. Whether fewer events are staffed or a fee is charged should be the governing body's decision, Nally said.
"When we provide a service from the township, we're going to have to charge a fee, and that's just the way it is. And that's moving forward," Committeeman David E. Most said.
No public hearing on the budget has been scheduled yet, Township Administrator Veronica Laureigh said Wednesday.
Nally said he would "proceed accordingly" with the understanding that hiring would be frozen. He did stress that the committee should consider approving the purchases of more sport-utility police vehicles: "The Crown Vics were completely useless in the (winter) storms we had."
Committeeman John C. Parker asked whether federal hiring grants are available, since "our president's been printing money and throwing it around." When Nally replied that most of that money seemed to be designated for urban areas, Parker replied, "Then we should change the name of Lacey to Newark."
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