EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 10, 2014

Budget Committee advises against full-time chief

Selectmen insist new chief will be full time

By Alex Lippa

---- — ATKINSON — The Budget Committee and selectmen are at odds over the police chief’s position.

The Budget Committee voted to include only $25,000 for the position in this year’s budget. Selectmen had requested $78,000 this year in an effort to change the position from part time to full time.

“We just think that such a thing should go to voters, rather than be made by the selectmen,” Budget Committee member Bill Smith said.

Selectmen have been trying to make the position full time after a recommendation by two consultants. Town Administrator Bill Innes said the Budget Committee’s recommendation will not deter selectmen from making the position full time.

“The Budget Committee does what the Budget Committee wants to do,” Innes said. “But they don’t make town policy.”

Innes said if the Budget Committee decides to keep the chief’s salary at $25,000, selectmen would still make sure the position is funded to support a full-time budget.

“We will move money around if that’s what we need to do,” Innes said.

Innes said it has been difficult working with the Budget Committee this year.

“It’s been frustrating working with them,” he said. “Their purpose just seems to be cutting the budget. We have had difficulties working with them and we have had many disagreements.”

Smith said the Budget Committee is looking for an increase around 2 percent from last year’s budget, while selectmen are looking at a 9 percent increase.

“I just think that with any significant increase, it should go to the voters,” he said. “This may be justified by a small change, but with something like this, a warrant article is a better mechanism.”

The town has seen three police chiefs within the last year. Last February, longtime police chief Philip Consentino was dismissed by selectmen for “cause.”

He was replaced by Sgt. Patrick Caggiano, who served as acting chief until Dec. 19. Caggiano retired from the department after selectmen opted to conduct an open search for a permanent chief.

Since Caggiano retired, Rockingham County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Al Brackett has served as interim chief. Brackett has said he is not interested in the permanent position.

Last year, selectmen budgeted $31,866 for the chief’s position. Smith said the Budget Committee decreased that number because of the expectation that the position would be vacant for part of the year. Atkinson is responsible for paying Brackett’s part-time salary.

“I don’t recall all the details of the discussion,” Smith said. “Our number might have been before the interim chief was appointed.”

Selectmen’s Chairman William Friel said making the chief’s position full time would benefit taxpayers.

“Based on our approach to the police department with a full-time chief, no additional funding will be required,” he said. “We will be able to provide the residents of Atkinson with a full-time chief who will dedicate all of their time to provide the best police practices to our residents for no increased cost.”

As of Tuesday, 37 candidates have applied for the open position. The town will be handing resumes over to the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police at the selectman’s meeting Monday. The association will narrow the pool down to three to five candidates before selectmen make the final decision.

Selectman William Baldwin, a selectman and former Atkinson lieutenant, told the rest of the board Monday that he was applying for the job. On Tuesday, he announced his was withdrawing his name from consideration. Baldwin is now a Plaistow police lieutenant.