Shortsighted plan

Ogdensburg Mayor Jeffery M. Skelly wants to see overtime within the city Police Department reduced significantly. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

Ogdensburg Mayor Jeffery M. Skelly has promoted yet another measure for the city to adopt without doing his homework on the topic.

On Monday, he issued a news release announcing his plans. He said that he intended to pursue them with other members of the City Council.

“In a press release Monday, Mr. Skelly said the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic means he and other city officials will need to be ‘forward thinking’ in the upcoming weeks and months, especially as it relates to spending taxpayer money,” the news release said. “Mr. Skelly said he plans to advocate for merging the city’s Parks and Recreation Department with the Department of Public Works as one way to improve efficiencies and save money. The Ogdensburg mayor said he also plans to seek council support for major reductions in overtime pay within the city Police Department.”

Mr. Skelly touted his proposals as ways to save taxpayer money.

“These are both changes that are probably overdue and should have been done by past city councils,” he said in his news release. “The city of Ogdensburg and communities across St. Lawrence County and the state are going to have financial problems this year because of the virus. Now is the time to start looking at where the government can save money.”

City Manager Sarah Purdy said that the potential merger of the Parks and Recreation Department with the Department of Public Works has already been under consideration. But it was Mr. Skelly’s ideas on police overtime that really caught her attention.

“In addition to merging departments, the Ogdensburg mayor said he and other council members plan to discuss reeling in police overtime expenses. He said the department has 29 officers and four dispatchers and routinely racks up hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime costs each year,” according to the news release. “Mr. Skelly said by his calculations, the Ogdensburg City Police Department budget has grown more than $700,000 since 2016, most of that associated with pay and benefits.”

The mayor has an ambitious goal.

“I’d like to see at least a 40 percent reduction in overtime costs in the Police Department,” Mr. Skelly was quoted as saying in his news release. “The police chief will be giving us a report on why we spend so much on overtime. Spending $300,000 or more every year on overtime, when you have a 29-officer department, needs to be fixed.”

Or does it? Had Mr. Skelly done some research on why the department needs this much money for overtime, he may have reached a different conclusion.

“You have to look at the total budget; you can’t just look at the expense. You have to look at the revenue,” Ms. Purdy said in a story published Monday by the Watertown Daily Times. “There are some operations that our Police Department runs strictly on an overtime basis, and we receive reimbursement for those things. There are various grants that offset some of other expenses. So to just look at the expense line and focus on that is not the total picture.”

She also pointed out that some overtime expenses are necessary because crimes can occur at any time of the day.

“Sometimes they have overtime because there is crime,” Ms. Purdy said. “Crime happens when it happens, and sometimes you have to call people back in.”

Ms. Purdy said she will present what cuts she would make in city expenses Monday during the council’s meeting. Hopefully, Mr. Skelly will obtain additional information about his proposed measures before then.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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