Selectman Robert Barton said revenues are not keeping pace with the town's spending and the Police Department was one area he felt should be cut.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Voters scoffed at the town's proposal to cut $25,000 from the Police Department's budget at Tuesday night's town meeting.
Selectman Robert Barton compared the town's expenditures with 10 similar towns and of those, Lanesborough was spending the most on its Police Department. In an attempt to close what he foresees as a $1 million deficit in the making, the board sought to pay for fewer part-time officers.
"When we recognized that we were spending more than our peers on police, we thought that would be a place to squeeze," Barton said. "It would still be one of the highest budgets for the size of the town."
Revenues are not keeping up with the town's spending and Barton has been leading an effort to examine each department to find ways to cut costs. However, cutting the Police Department's salaries from $352,770 this year to $327,770 for next year was not what the voters wanted.
"We're not looking for an increase. Give us what we had last year and we'll work on it," Officer Timothy Sorrell said. "If one of our officers gets hurt or killed, whose hands will the blood be on?"
Sorrell, president of the police association, said the town is not getting safer and by cutting the use of part-time officers, the full-timers would be left on their own for many shifts.
Sorrell was involved in the first police shooting in recent memory, when he defended himself last fall against a man allegedly coming after him with a knife.
"The officer and the taxpayers need to have two officers on shift for your safety and ours," he said.
Residents jabbed at Barton's study, saying comparing Lanesborough to towns like Cheshire, which on Monday increased its police budget to hire its first full-time officer, was inaccurate. Cheshire does not have "crime seeping in from Pittsfield" nor do the officers have the Berkshire Mall to patrol, residents said.
"I think we are in a more dangerous situation than it was a number of years ago," resident William Matthiesen said. "I'd rather pay more taxes and pick up the $25,000 that way than cut the officers."
Compared to other towns, Lanesborough spends the most per capita for its Police Department.
Voters' overwhelming supported the restoring the funding level to last year's amount. The Fire Department was on the chopping block to be cut about $3,000, which voters also restored.
"We're in a lot of trouble 10 years down the line," Selectman William Prendergast said when the Highway Department's budget line came to discussion.
He then motioned to restore that department line as well because the board was "obviously wasting our time" by suggesting cuts. Barton supported the motion as a matter of fairness between the departments.
"If we're not going to squeeze police, we're not going to squeeze other areas, we shouldn't squeeze the highway," Barton said.
However, the board's motion to restore the Highway Department's funding was rejected by voters. Finance Committee member Bill Stevens said additional money was allocated to the department's mowing budget line to soften the blow.
Overall, the town passed a $9,288,853 budget, which is about $16,000 more than this year. The budget includes a less than 1 percent increase in the Elementary School's budget, a slight increase to Mount Greylock Regional High School and a savings in employee health insurance, which stemmed from joining the Berkshire Health Group. Nearly all other budget lines were level-funded.
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