NASHUA — The city's police chief made another plea to aldermen on Thursday to increase the police force and place more patrolmen in the downtown and tree street neighborhoods.
“The only way that we are going to make any headway is if we are able to hire officers above and beyond our authorized strength,” Chief John Seusing told the aldermanic Budget Review Committee. “ … I think we can do a better job with additional officers.”
Currently, the police department is authorized to hire 179 police officers, however its budget only provides enough money for 177. In addition, there are now only 164 active officers on the streets because of six existing vacancies, six officers at the police academy and another officer in training.
Alderman-at-Large David Deane, who asked numerous questions about the police department's budget, said he wants to ensure that there is adequate staffing to curb some of the crime problems in the city.
A suggestion was made to have the chief hire three additional officers — with a total maximum of 180 — without adding extra funds but instead using saved overtime costs to compensate for the difference.
Seusing called that idea a “gamble,” saying he didn't feel comfortable hiring 180 officers if he only has a budget to cover 177.
“We gambled before, and in my opinion, it hasn't worked” said Seusing, noting an incident earlier this year when the department had to pull two school resource officers out of the schools and into the patrol bureau to offset a budget shortage.
Alderman Brian McCarthy, president of the board, argued that the police department could be more aggressive in its hiring process without taking money from taxpayers that may not be necessary.
Although the committee did not authorize funding for any extra officers, it did ultimately add $100,000 to the police department's contingency account, which would allow the chief to hire additional officers if he feels comfortable with the available funds.
Earlier this week, the committee made about $567,000 in cuts to Mayor Donnalee Lozeau's proposed $230 million 2013 budget, including the elimination of $250,000 for downtown sidewalk improvements and $115,000 to remove Nashua's CitiStat division.
Several downtown business owners attended Thursday's meeting to voice concerns about the cut in downtown funding, arguing the space should be revitalized and restored.
“The sidewalk is in dire need of repair,” said Marylou Blaisdell of DesignWares in Nashua. “It is a matter of safety at this point.”
Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, maintained that the downtown needs to remain vibrant. He referred to the committee's action to eliminate the $250,000 as a result of turf wars and political arm wrestling.
After listening to concerns from the public, the commission essentially reserved its decision from Wednesday and restored $249,000 for downtown improvements and $1,000 to a sidewalk account.
As of press time, the group was still deliberating further budget issues.
The final budget will still need to be approved by the full Board of Aldermen at a future date.
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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.