GROTON -- Looking askance at a Police Department transfer request from the town's reserve fund to cover the cost of overtime pay, the Finance Committee eventually acknowledged the necessity and voted in favor of the move.
The decision came Tuesday night following a meeting between the Finance Committee, Town Manager Mark Haddad, and police Chief Donald Palma.
The transfer request of $22,000 was one of a number of similar proposals being considered at the June 5 meeting but none as large as that of Police Department.
Finance Committee members initially balked at the amount because it came on the heels of earlier requests totaling some $60,000.
"Why is there so much more spending if you were supposed to save money this year?" asked Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager of the chief.
Prager wanted to know if the committee could expect to see more such overruns in subsequent years as well.
Quick to assure committee members that the same thing would not happen again in the future, Palma explained that the hiring of new personnel in his department would give him more flexibility and reduce the need for overtime.
As things stood, the Police Department has averaged 4,000 hours of overtime a year at a cost to taxpayers of an average $41 per hour.
Palma explained that in the past year, a shortage of personnel and an unusual amount of activity in town, including accidents and increased paperwork were the root cause of the need for
"We had a bad year," acknowledged Haddad.
Pressing the issue, Prager asked Palma what could be done in the next fiscal year to keep to the approved budget for the Police Department steady, which he characterized as already generous.
Although Palma was prepared to say that the hiring of new personnel would solve many of the department's problems, he could not guarantee the elimination of all overtime.
Sometimes, having an overly tight budget did not allow for enough flexibility when unforeseen circumstances arose, reminded committee member Robert Hargraves.
Other transfers approved by the Finance Committee last Tuesday night included $5,200 to help cover veterans' benefits, $9,000 for the treasurer's office, and a modest $13 to help round off wages owed in the accounting office.
Haddad briefed the committee on his plan to reorganize and consolidate two of the town's financial offices to improve service and streamline payroll formulation.
According to Haddad, between them, the assessor and treasurer's offices cover 176.5 hours of work among their employees at a combined cost of $219,092 in salaries.
If a proposed plan were to be put in place, the town manager said it would result in a reduction in work hours with the elimination of a part time, 13-hour per week position, and up to $30,000 in other savings from the current budget.
With the savings, Haddad proposed the purchase of computer software to help in payroll and to fund the creation of two new positions, including an assistant assessor and a financial offices assistant to help primarily in the treasurer's office.
Haddad said that pending a June 14 solicitation for bids from interested providers, he and a team of town hall personnel planned to visit the city of Waltham to find out more about the system used there.
If approved, such a system would cost an estimated $29,000 a year to operate and another $9,000 to set up.
"I think it's going to make us more efficient," said Haddad of an up-to-date system. "And I'm not increasing the budget one dime."
Convinced that the proposal was sound and would save the town money in the long run, committee members voted to support the expenditure of $9,000 to cover startup costs of the program ultimately chosen.