It was good to see a packed house at Tuesday night’s pre-council meeting and 2014 budget discussion. It was especially helpful that Mayor-Elect Paul Cusick was present as he was asked to provide insight to some pressing fiscal questions by the current council. While we do not have a video of the budget discussion, the LiB team present recorded some notes and concerns regarding the budgetary process.
First and foremost, the question on everybody’s mind is – Why is it the responsibility of the lame duck council to formulate the fiscal policy for the coming year? It became explicitly clear that at least one lame duck councilperson had an ax to grind while debating the borough’s finances. Would it not be wiser for the borough to follow a fiscal calendar rather than an annual calendar for budgeting purposes – one that prevents a council from controlling an entire year’s worth of the next council’s priorities?
Of primary concern throughout the 2+ hour meeting was spending on police overtime. According to the 2014 budget worksheet (pictured below), the cost of overtime in our police department has averaged $102,000 in the last three years. That seems high, but that’s what the numbers of have been over the past three years. Yet, even in spite of that history, Bellevue Council budgeted merely $35,000 to cover all overtime in 2013…and then had the audacity of scolding our Chief of Police for costing the borough $65,000 more than budgeted in overtime! There’s no denying that there should be a way of reducing that figure. The proposed 2014 budget of $73,000 seems like a more reasonable expectation. But slashing the overtime budget by 65% and then getting upset when it doesn’t pan out as planned – that’s just unreasonable. Near the end of the discussion President Linda Woshner explicitly stated, “We have to limit the police budget this year.”
Another matter of concern was raised when at least one member of the currently seated council demanded that the School Resource Officer (Bellevue police officer tasked with maintaining a presence at Northgate High School) be considered an “on duty” officer and able to respond to calls throughout the school day. The Chief reminded all those at the table that the SRO does not have a squad car because he is tasked with maintaining a safe environment at the school at all times – to leave the school on a routine call would jeopardize the purpose of him being there in the first place. If all it takes is a simple distress call to 911 to remove police presence at the high school, why wouldn’t an aspiring assailant NOT make such a call before engaging an attack?? Though we didn’t hear it brought up during the discussion, it is relevant to the topic to remind LiB readers that it was the Northgate School Resource Officer who discovered the substitute teacher passed out during class as a result of taking heroine prior to arriving to school.
Those are just a few the notes taken from the lengthy discussion concerning Bellevue’s 2014 Budget. We were pleased that so many residents and newly elected leaders were able to attend and even participate in the discussion. As the discussion continues we’ll be sure to share more thoughts, questions, and concerns. If you were present or simply wish to add your thoughts concerning the pending budget please do so in the comments below.