SOUTHAMPTON — Police Chief Ian Illingsley developed a template and a process for building the department’s yearly budget. The template could save him more time, but every year he clears the numbers from last year’s template and starts a new budget.

“I feel it’s more accountable to the taxpayers and it helps me … when I review my budget submission,” Illingsley said. “It helps me gauge where I’m at.”

A $35,000 reduction in the budget for fiscal year 2025 is where the proposed police budget is at, but the presentation served to educate the Select Board on why certain expenses rose or fell. The chief’s attention to detail helped board members understand why overtime wages, for example, have fluctuated so much: the police reform act of 2020.

“We relied on part-time officers,” Illingsley said. “Those part-time officers were good for filling open shifts.”

Illingsley explained that the reform act dampened interest in policing since it required part time officers be trained the same as full-time officers. Part time officers trained to full-time standards often go to full-time status. That may sound like a net benefit, but the numbers of officers available for part-time policing dropped.

The loss of flexibility impacts the budget. Part time officers worked 4,180 hours in FY21, 2,410 hours in FY22 and 2,050 hours in FY23. Part time officers will work an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 hours in FY24.

“It helps to explain why my overtime budget went up,” Illingsley said.

The loss of part time officers frequently means full-time officers work overtime to fill open shifts. The department expects one shift weekly from each part time officer, or two a month, which can be difficult. Part time officers usually have other employment. The alternative, overtime for a full time officer, costs the department $56 an hour.

The line item for wages, Illingsley said, will total $1.084 million in FY25. About $100,000 of that is overtime pay.

The loss of part-time officers also impacts the departmental budget when figuring in the costs of employee benefits. Part time officers usually do not get benefits, saving the department $8,000 to $15,000 per badge.

The costs of professional development and ongoing trainings were woven through several sections of Illingsley’s presentation. First responders have to maintain certifications. Officers need training in tazer and firearms use. The school has mandatory lockdown drills.

“Professional development, I’ve been doing that online, but we have to buy those classes,” Illingsley said. “I’ve had to cut back on training and I don’t like that.”

Illingsley works to improve training and communication, but hasn’t scheduled a meeting of the whole staff in almost three years. That meeting would put a small dent in the budget.

Vehicle maintenance is one of many line items that recur every budget year. The chief’s cruiser needs a new water pump, which will cost $2,500. Three cruisers need new tires at a cost of $700 for each vehicle. The department burns through $1,900 in fuel monthly.

The choice to regionalize dispatch services and upgrade the communication facilities resulted in cost savings and better coordination within the department. The repeaters for the fire and police departments that relay communications to cruisers in the field will be installed on Mt. Tom in early April, Illingsley said, “Where they belong.” The department also bought mobile computers to accompany officers in the field.

“Since we regionalized, we bought mobile data terminals,” Illingsley said. “The reason we did that is to make sure the officers are always in touch with dispatch.”

The intermunicipal agreement with Easthampton for the regional dispatch center has built into the budget higher costs for communication. An approaching upgrade that may cost $500,000 to accomplish will cost much less, in part because of regionalization, in tandem with grants. Software for scheduling has eased the difficulty of that task, but the staff member in charge of technology can’t keep up with the increasing complexity of all the new gear and applications in the office.

A recent debt exclusion funded an administrative assistant. Illingsley appreciated that he didn’t have to spend Sunday nights doing payroll for the department. Members of the Select Board appreciated the transparency of the proposed budget.

“This is a fair budget [and] a thoughtful budget,” said Select Board member Dan LaValley. “You’ve got it to the point where you’re efficient with the money.”

Select Board Chair Christine Fowles praised Chief Illingsworth’s budget process. She said, “You’ve got it down to each paper clip.”

The FY25 budget for the Police Department will be voted on at Town Meeting in the spring.

dpruyne@thereminder.com | + posts