By PHIL NOBILE
As the Harrison Police Department continues to enjoy steady salary, staff and equipment increases, the department further widens its gap from nearby municipalities in terms of spending and manpower, and continues to ignore a local law dating back to 2002 regarding the town’s top salary.
In the final moments of the last 2013 Town Council meeting, following a lengthy private to the public executive session teetering on three hours, the council passed an initially redacted police chief stipend, salary increases and additional hires for the town’s Law Enforcement Department. The decisions, passed unanimously by the five-member, all-Republican Town Council, continue a trend of steady increases that has some town residents and critics of the current administration concerned.
To that extent, and thanks to plenty of allotted overtime hours, one Harrison police officer exceeded $200,000 in pay and another neared it in 2013.
Danny Grant, a sergeant, and William Currow, a detective, made $211,980 and $197,222 in 2013 respectively, according to numbers obtained by the Harrison Review through a Freedom of Information Law request for police overtime figures. Their base salaries were $111,034 and $105,291.
Initially, police overtime was budgeted at $500,000 for 2013, but the numbers more than doubled projections, eclipsing $1.2 million by year’s end. In 2014, $600,000 is budgeted for overtime.
Comparable municipalities in terms of population, such as the Town of Mamaroneck and Eastchester, spent approximately $423,000 and $99,000 on police overtime respectively in 2013.
Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, said numerous police investigations on the department’s end were the reasons behind the higher-than-budgeted overtime amounts for the town.
“We have had some really heavy-duty investigations while I’ve been here, and had some real bad people in town and we’ve done our best to get rid of them,” he said. “There have been investigations we’ve solved that other communities threw their hands in the air and said ‘it’s not going to happen.’”
Belmont referred to the Nov. 12, 2013 arrest of three gypsy contract scammers who traveled the country for a decade scamming people out of services for more than $1 million.
Citing 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and emergency situations, Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini said that his department displays exemplary effort for the community which requires the high overtime hours.
“If an officer is working and we are actively engaged in criminal investigations, I believe the overtime is justified,” Marraccini said. “The Harrison Police Department prides itself in going above and beyond to assist the residents of this community. Unfortunately, it comes with a price tag.”
Along with overtime budgets, Harrison’s Police Department also has a higher number of total personnel when compared to similar municipalities in the area. The total number of employees in Harrison’s Police Department is 74, including 10 civilian workers. Harrison’s population, according to 2012 United States Census Bureau numbers, is 27,785.
In the Town of Mamaroneck, which has the closest population to Harrison’s at 29,156, according to 2010 census numbers, there are 39 total police department personnel. In Eastchester, there are 50 total police personnel for a town population of 32,363.
“They have a very demanding job that can be dangerous, which has to be recognized, but it still has to be in the context of what is being paid in neighboring municipalities and what the town can afford,” Joan Walsh, a former Democratic Harrison mayor said.
Total police salaries are just under $6.3 million, accounting for almost a third of total town salaries this year, which total more than $19 million, according to the town’s adopted budget for 2014.
The Town of Mamaroneck is budgeting to spend $4.5 million on its police salaries and Eastchester $5.2 million based on the municipalities’ respective 2014 budgets.
Mayor Belmont, however, said Harrison and its police endeavors are “incomparable” to that of other communities due to unique aspects of the town.
“Our community cannot be compared to other communities,” he said. “The other communities that we are sometimes compared to have our square mileage, but don’t have three or four major highways going through town, train station and a corporate sector [Westchester Avenue] that we have, which is second-to-none for a town of our size.”
Chief Marraccini described the police department as “understaffed,” hoping to reach 70 to 74 officers in the future.
“There are many more things and many more investigations that we need to be doing here,” Marraccini said. “In Harrison, we take policing very seriously, and we take helping our residents very seriously.”
But beyond officer pay, the pay of the town’s top cop has also been the topic of much debate receiving some criticism, and actually violating town code. According to the code, the mayor’s salary must be fixed at a rate of at least $1 more than any other town employee. The law, enacted under the administration of former Republican mayor and current town councilman Stephen Malfitano, has been ignored since 2011, when the police chief’s salary first eclipsed the mayor’s by more than $700.
Belmont, when asked why the town currently wasn’t following the law, said “Joan Walsh did not follow it and nor will I.” He said the law would probably get changed pending referral to the town’s Law Department.
Town Attorney Frank Allegretti, who was in place when the law was enacted, said the 2002 Town Council was of the mindset that the supervisor should be the highest-paid official at the time. According to Allegretti, any change in policy the current council would have to enact.
“You’re talking about a technical violation,” Allegretti said when asked about possible repercussions. “The current supervisor, at the least, is looking to save the taxpayers money by not demanding the provision be enforced and not demanding the salary he is entitled to.”
The police chief’s salary is expected to rise to $168,568 while the mayor’s is slated to remain at the current rate of $155,376, according to the town budget, further dividing the gap between the two position’s pay. The salary and the stipend for the chief puts Marraccini more than $25,000 higher in pay than Belmont.
The mayor’s salary has remained relatively steady since 2008 when Walsh began her term as mayor. The salary of the police chief, however, has grown by almost $20,000 from that point, and has increased $40,000 since 2004, not including an additional stipend recently awarded to Maraccini.
Initial criticism of police expenditures came as a result of the stipend and it being imposed and redacted swiftly. Originally, the Town Council passed an $18,000 stipend on Aug. 1, 2013 for the police chief for the purpose of fulfilling additional duties for a vacant police captain position. Since Marraccini, a former captain, was appointed in March 2010, his position has remained unfulfilled.
But, the stipend was then reinstated in the amount of $12,000 at the tail end of the Dec. 17, 2013 council meeting, the final meeting of the calendar year.
Walsh, who was defeated by Belmont for a second straight time in the 2013 election, spoke out against the stipend when it was originally enacted in August 2013, and questioned whether the department was seeking to fill the captain position.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Walsh said. “I think that [Marraccini] should be satisfied with his salary and not always seeking to improve it.”
Belmont said the August stipend wasn’t appropriate timing and rescinded it less than a month later. Belmont said the end of 2013 was the right time instead, declining further explanation as to why conditions had changed.
According to Belmont, the amount the town’s department is being paid and spending is appropriate, and important to the Harrison way of life.
“People choose to live here because they know it’s a safe community, it’s where people want to raise their children and be comfortable, and seniors want to stay here and feel comfortable,” Belmont said. “It’s not like New York City when you call and don’t know when or if they’ll show up. Here you call and they’re there in minutes, and that’s what people want.”