Framingham: Committee supports 6.8 percent budget increase for police March 5, 2015
Danielle Ameden 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - The Finance Committee voted Wednesday to support new public safety budgets that give the Fire Department a slight increase and police a bigger boost.

After meeting with Police Chief Ken Ferguson, the committee voted unanimously to support a $14.1 million budget for fiscal 2016 for police. The budget, as recommended by Chief Financial Officer Mary Ellen Kelley and Town Manager Bob Halpin, is up by $823,000 or 6.2 percent.

The Fire Department, meanwhile, says it can manage with just a $68,000 increase, half a percent more than its current $13.5 million budget.

Driven up mainly by contractual increases for salaries, the police budget includes money for five new cruisers and 30 Tasers to equip more officers on the force.

Ferguson successfully made a case with the committee for $22,500 to bump up the department's second jail diversion counselor position from part-time to full-time.

For more than 10 years the program has been helping some people who are struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse get into treatment instead of lockup.

"This is an issue across the country and we see it locally," Ferguson said, adding that problems with this population are "more prevalent now than it's ever been in my career."

Ferguson said the department has two counselors now, one working part-time and the other full-time, whose positions are funded by the state. He said the program is more cost-effective, but stressed that people who are committing crimes "will be arrested."

He said the program really works in cases where people may be acting disorderly, for example, because of mental health or substance abuse problems.

"Back when I was on the road...we criminalized behavior that should have been treated because we didn't know what to do," he said.

The Finance Committee saw merit in adding the part-time position to the budget so the department has the two social workers full-time.

"This seems like a very small price to pay for the good that will come of it," member Betty Funk said.

Ferguson said the department will have 11 civilian positions with approval of the 0.5 position addition, and a total of 135 sworn officers. That includes five who are now in field training and four who are in the academy, he said.

Thanks to new positions Town Meeting approved in the past two years and the department's move to civilianize four positions at the station, the force will soon have a total of 18 new officers, Ferguson said.

Only a third of the officers have Tasers, and Ferguson said the 30 new Tasers in his budget will help equip officers with an effective non-lethal weapon.

"Tasers incapacitate you, but they don't injure you," he said. "We don't want to use the spray and baton."

Ferguson said the department is now researching body cameras, with the union's support.

"They're willing to pilot it," he said.

Fire Chief Gary Daugherty and Assistant Chief John Magri said their budget request for next fiscal year is up only slightly and adds no new personnel. Daugherty said the department isn't asking for any big capital items this year.

One item, a $75,000 study, will be a first step toward replacing Fire Station 2 in Saxonville, which was built in the 1890s.

He told the Finance Committee he did some historic research and found the need goes way back to 1937, when the fire chief at the time asked Town Meeting to replace it.

"We don't need to rush things here," Daugherty joked.

Both the police and fire budgets will go to annual Town Meeting in the spring for approval, as part of the fiscal '16 operating budget.

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