NEWBURY — Budget cuts have claimed another Newbury police officer, as Stephen Smith, a full-time officer since August 2010, was laid off earlier this month.
Smith, who joined the department in 2007 as a reserve officer, was informed of his termination on Saturday, March 17, by Newbury police Chief Michael Reilly.
With Smith's departure, the Police Department is now down to 10 full-time officers, including Reilly; six part-time officers and three part-time dispatchers. As recently as 2007, the department had 14 full-time officers and four dispatchers.
Reilly said the decision to lay off Smith, who had the least seniority, was based on the most recent budget analysis that showed the reduction was needed for the Police Department to keep in the black for the remainder of fiscal 2012, ending June 30.
"He's a good police officer, and it is a shame we had to let him go at this point," Reilly said. "It's just a tough situation, and we understand the economy, so we try to do the best we can with the resources we have."
Reilly said he didn't think he'd need to make any more personnel cuts between now and June 30, adding that there was a chance of rehiring Smith in July should certain budgetary factors work in his favor.
"My goal would be to bring him back if our budget is fully funded," Reilly said.
Later this spring, voters at Town Meeting and then at the polls will decide whether the town can raise taxes via an override to make up for a predicted budget shortfall. This year, the town is looking for an additional $293,000 in taxes to cover deficiencies in several town department budgets, including $100,000 for the Police Department, $100,000 for the Fire Department, $29,000 for the Public Works Department and $34,000 for the public library.
Should the override fail, additional cuts to the Police Department could be coming, according to Town Administrator Tracy Blais,
Another factor in determining whether Smith can be rehired is the successful negotiation of a new contract with the Police Department's union.
"These are terrible decisions to have to make; unfortunately, we're forced to function with finite resources," Blais said.
Smith's departure is yet another in a series of personnel moves that have further taxed the resources of the small community police department.
In late January, Stephen May Jr., an eight-year veteran of the department, resigned just as an internal investigation regarding his conduct had been submitted to the town.
Last November, Reilly was forced to shave nearly 20 percent off his budget, resulting in the elimination of the department's full-time dispatcher position and leading to the layoff of longtime dispatcher Jeanne McClung.
Last May, longtime police Sgt. Lawrence Kent was fired by the Board of Selectmen after an internal investigation conducted by Reilly, The investigation determined Kent had violated numerous department policies when he allegedly punched a helpless suspect in the head several times and then lied about the incident in his report. As a result, Kent was formally charged with assault and battery and falsifying a police report. However, he was found not guilty on both charges late last month by a jury at Haverhill Superior Court.
Blais said Smith's departure could jeopardize evening coverage at the Police Department. But Reilly was less specific when asked what losing Smith could mean, saying only the department would be shorthanded on some shifts depending on what's going on in town.