AMESBURY — When acting police Chief Kevin Ouellet is officially sworn in as the city’s leading law enforcement officer on July 1, he will likely be pressed into making do with less than he and retired Chief Mark Gagnon had hoped for.
Last week, the City Council, acting in its capacity at the Finance Committee, rejected the police department’s fiscal 2014 funding request of $3,769,871, asking Gagnon and Ouellet to trim $29,000 from its bottom line. The council is expected to meet tonight to approve Mayor Thatcher Kezer’s proposed $55,813,221 fiscal 2014 budget.
At last week’s budget hearing, the council focused much of its attention on proposed salaries for the department’s top three positions: chief, executive officer and detective lieutenant, even though the council doesn’t have the power to slash specific line items.
Instead, the council can approve less money than requested, placing the burden on department heads to make cuts where they feel most appropriate. Some in attendance last week saw the council’s decision to single out the pay of the top three positions as more of a statement regarding bloated police salaries.
Reached yesterday, Councilor at-large Jim Kelcourse said there has been concern among his colleagues that Amesbury’s police brass were making more money than lead officers in communities comparable in size to Amesbury. Asked whether councilors were sending a message that night, Kelcourse demurred, saying he wouldn’t go as far as saying the council’s intent was sending a message.
“But it’s appropriate we should be sending a message to the police department and the mayor,” Kelcourse said, adding he thought the city could afford to pay high-ranking police officers less than they make currently.
Considering that the police department is seeking an increase of $354,528 from fiscal 2013, mostly due to contractual salary increases, a $29,000 cut may not seem dramatic. To put that in perspective, the fire department is seeking a fiscal 2014 budget of $2,994,470, an increase of $28,357 from what the department received in fiscal 2013.