The Halifax Finance Committee met on August 15 and all members were present.
Halifax Police Chief Joao Chaves attended the meeting to state his case for the hiring of more officers. He had previously attended a Board of Selectmen meeting and got the green light from them to begin the search for two full- time applicants but wanted to also have the backing of the Finance Committee. “We’re in the process of doing background checks on these two individuals but obviously, like anything else, they are also contemplating other offers because everyone is looking for people,” Chaves told the Committee.
Chaves said that from July 1, 2022, to August 14, 2022, there were a total of 18 unfilled shifts. The Department recently lost three special police officers. Chaves said that were a third-party agency come to do an evaluation of the Department using State metrics, they would estimate that the Department should have 18-19 full-time officers. Chaves said he wasn’t looking to reach that number but wanted to increase from 11 officers to 13. He told the Committee that the Department has been at 11 officers since 1980. He said that Plympton, which is significantly smaller than Halifax, has 16 officers. He named some comparable towns all of whom had significantly more officers than Halifax.
Chaves said that demand from residents for a school resource officer is also contributing to the desire to grow the staff. Right now, we have a liaison officer who works a regular shift and then when she can, she stops by the school. She can’t be starting programs at the school like you would like to because she is a midnight shift officer because of contractual obligations,” Chaves explained. He said the plan would be for her to transfer to days to free up some time. He said that another factor in requesting to hire more officers is the increased demand for police presence given the growing cannabis industry in the area.
Chaves, who talked numbers with Town Accountant Sandra Nolan, said, “Budgetary-wise, financially-wise, I think we can sustain it.” He said that in fiscal year 2019, the Department returned $16,000 back to the town, in 2020 $56,000 was returned, in 2021 $39,000, and in 2022 $70,000 was returned to the town budget. He further said that they have $90,000 allocated to fund the new positions. He said that looking forward to the next fiscal year, a Sergeant in the Department would be retiring, and the incoming Sergeant would make less money which would add a cost savings that could be allocated to the salaries of the two new officers.
Regarding additional cost savings, Chaves said that every year the Department asks for two new cruisers. He said that the Department’s fleet is in the best shape it has been in in a long time and as a result, they could skip a year. He said that the community impact fee from the new cannabis stores could also contribute to offsetting the cost of the officers. The Finance Committee voted to approve the Chief’s request.
The Committee also discussed the empty Finance Secretary position. They were told there have been no candidates and not a single response. It was suggested that the Committee explore the possibility of bringing on an intern to take on the secretary duties. They agreed to do some research and reach out to local colleges and universities.
The Committee also discussed renewing their membership to the Association of Town Finance Committees. The Committee members agreed that they enjoyed being a part of the Association and found it helpful.
The Chair said that the only communication received was from the Superintendents of schools looking for alternatives to the bussing issue. He said that even with a $400 a day reduction due to a change in vendors, they were still going to be significantly over budget.
The Committee also discussed the need to appoint citizens-at-large to the Personnel Advisory Board. They also said that they would be inviting Frank Johnston to the next meeting to hopefully interview him for the open spot on the Finance Committee. They were all in agreement that he was qualified.