The Haines Borough Assembly approved a $63,000 budget amendment for the police department this week. The funding request came during a time of change for the department. Haines has lost its Alaska State Trooper. And the police chief is hoping to expand the force from four to five officers.
The budget overrun may have something to do with the outer borough matters the police now feel obligated to cover. But the overspending started before the trooper post became vacant in December.
From July to December, the department was between $2,000 and $8,000 over budget each month.
Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan says the discrepancy between projected and actual costs has a lot to do with the high rate of police turnover. He says it was hard to predict how much the department will cost when there hadn’t been four permanent officers on payroll for a while.
“It’s troublesome to me that we’re not supporting this department that really needs it,” Ryan said. “We have a lot of turnover in the police department. It’s a systemic problem that we need to solve. And I think supporting the new chief who is trying really hard, who is trying to be part of the community, is really important.”
Police Chief Heath Scott has been on the job since July. He says overtime and standby time account for much of the budget overrun.
“There is a true lack of resources here,” Scott said.
By January, the HPD was $32,000 over budget. That’s when Scott came to the assembly to ask for a $63,000 amendment that would cover the $32,000 for the first half of the fiscal year and the same amount for the second half.
Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer said she would support the amendment, but she was troubled that the budget issues didn’t come to the assembly sooner.
“It went for so long without being addressed,” Friedenauer said. “And I understand that the previous administration knew about it for at least a few months. And so I’m not trying to place blame but I think it’s important to point out that it’s unusual for a department in the borough to go over budget this much.”
Ryan and Scott say previous manager Bill Seward was aware the situation.
Assemblyman Tom Morphet proposed paying for the $32,000 overrun that has already happened, but not the anticipated expenses.
“I think this is a troublesome precedent with a department coming and saying ‘we don’t have enough money’ in the middle of the year,” Morphet said. “I think if we approve this, we can expect similar requests from other departments saying ‘you underfunded us.’ I think it’s the obligation of department heads to meet the budget.”
But Assembly member Ron Jackson said budget issues at the police department are different from other borough departments.
“I think we have to stop thinking about the police department as just another borough department,” Jackson said. “We ask them to be on call, ready to go, 24/7, 365.”
The assembly voted 5-1 to approve a list of budget amendments that includes the $63,000. Morphet was opposed.
The assembly still needs to tackle some big-picture questions about the police department. Should it be restored to its previous size of five officers? And how will the municipality pay for the void in outer borough coverage left behind by the troopers?
The community will have a chance to weigh in soon. The assembly asked the manager to set up town hall meetings about outer-borough law enforcement.