A recent statement from Harrison's police chief criticising appears to have hit a nerve with Harrison Mayor/Supervisor Joan Walsh.
Walsh issued a , blasting Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini for what she calls an "arrogant" public presentation that neglected the board's efforts to create a responsible budget during difficult financial times. Walsh went as far as to suggest that the town consider merging with the county police department if current spending levels aren't enough to fund an adequate local force.
The mayor went on to accuse Marraccini of misleading residents and putting the town at risk by suggesting that low spending levels leave the the town vulnerable to criminals.
"This attack by Chief Marraccini, particularly on me but also on the other town board members, comes from one who should know better, who has cleverly used words to give false impressions, who may have put us all at risk by openly stating that his officers may not be able to protect our town, from one who is putting his personal judgment above the collective wisdom of the town board members," Walsh .
Marraccini, meanwhile, isn't backing down from his statements calling the current budget "unrealistic, irresponsible and hazardous". He said this week that the ongoing effort to cut spending has scraped away at the community and will continue to do so unless the town board starts investing more money into its departments.
The exchange between the two once again brings the issue of taxes vs. services to the public forefront.
Harrison's 2012 stands to raise taxes 4.2 percent. Walsh has stressed her administration has worked hard to reduce the tax burden on tax-weary residents, but Marraccini says those cuts have now left the town with staffing levels too low to perform essential services.
Marraccini is asking for eight more police officers in his department, which would cost the town approximately $739,560 per-year and add about 2 percent to the current tax rate increase. The chief acknowledges that spending more money isn't a popular idea, but says the alternative leaves the town's property values at stake.
"I would rather have my taxes go up 5 percent than my property values go down 5 percent," Marraccini said, adding that cuts to community outreach programs and to overall police patrol will eat away at property values unless something is done.
But it isn't necessarily what the chief is asking for that has Walsh upset; it's the way the requests were presented. Walsh has taken issue with the frequent public and private presentations the chief has made portraying the department as under funded. The supervisor said in her statement that the town board has done everything possible to provide the department with what it needs, but that more must be done with less.
"We have hard-working, well-trained, dedicated men and women protecting our town and the board has seldom refused a request for the newest and best for them," Walsh said. "The reality is that today we have to choose carefully how to allocate our dollars."
The chief sees things differently, saying that as a department leader it's his responsibility to let the board know when he doesn't have the resources to do his job.
"As long as I can remember, I don't remember a police chief's recommendations not even being considered," Marraccini said.
This is not the first time Marraccini has voiced concerns over a proposed budget. In 2010, his first year as chief, Marraccini asked the board for more staff and replacements for aging police cruisers, among other things. The town bonded several new police vehicles in 2011, but staffing levels have remained at similar levels.
Substantial budget changes for any of the town's departments are unlikely at this point. The board chose not to override the 2 percent tax levy cap this year, and the current budget stays just below the cap, leaving little wiggle room for last minute adjustments.
The board must approve a final budget by Dec. 22.
Marraccini said if not this year, the board needs a plan for future hires moving forward. The board added three civilian dispatchers to the police payroll, along with one new full-time officer in 2012. Not enough, according to the chief.
"Unfortunately it's a drop in the bucket," Marraccini said. "If we don't start planning the rebuilding of this department now, we could potentially lose a lot of character that this town has become familiar with."