For years, Bedford has routinely assigned a police officer to walk a beat at Fox Lane High School. And for years, the town has routinely footed the bill for Police Officer William Smith’s daily rounds. But in a year when every nickel in the municipal budget is being treated like a numismatic treasure, no expense is routine.
So Fox Lane Principal Joel Adelberg had a seat at the table Wednesday night as board members and Comptroller Ed Ritter returned to their weekly quest of a 2012 budget, mindful this year of a state-imposed limit on property-tax hikes and their homeowners’ increasing inability or unwillingness to pay those increases.
Police Chief William Hayes was also at the table as the board considered his department’s piece of the budget—fully 20 percent of the town’s roughly $25 million in expected spending next year.
Officer Smith’s annual cost—more than $167,000 when salary and benefits are tallied—is part of that. No one, it seems—least of all Bedford’s elected officials—doubts the value of what’s called the “school resource officer.” But the board members would like to see some of Bill Smith’s cost picked up by those other beneficiaries of his presence, namely the homeowners in Mount Kisco and Pound Ridge who also send their sons and daughters to Fox Lane.
“Our kids respond to him,” Adelberg said. “The one who gets their attention is Officer Smith.”
The principal said Smith had the ability to “calm down” situations. “The presence of one officer makes a difference,” he said.
Councilman Chris Burdick acknowledged Smith’s contributions, saying, “We’ve had accolades both for the position itself and the person who occupies it.” But—in a question emblematic of today’s budget-making—he asked how the town could sustain even a worthwhile program while it tried to abide by a state-imposed cap of 2 percent on property-tax increases.
The board has already voted not to be bound by the statutory limit. But at the same time, mindful of both the taxpayers’ wrath and their increasing financial pressure they face, it has pledged to do all it can to stay within the state’s cap.
Since all of the school district’s residents benefit from Smith’s Fox Lane beat, Burdick said, a districtwide charge seemed the most equitable way to finance it.
Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts, coming straight to the point, asked Adelberg, “Do you know whether it’s been discussed by the [Bedford CSD] board of education?” The principal said he did not know.
While the board’s budget sessions are open to the public, they most often draw few attendees, usually just press and a couple of town officials, current or hopeful. On Wednesday, the retired chief of the Lewisboro Police Department—and father-in-law to Smith—was seated in the front row. Drew Marchiano, who lives in Bedford, made a case for both the school officer and for sharing the cost of the job he does.
“I understand your [fiscal] issues,” he said. “But I think you really have to pursue finding a way to pay for this position. It’s invaluable.”
Marchiano said that in Putnam County one school district paid any overtime a school-resource officer incurred while his department picked up the tab for employee benefits. Although Marchiano could not recall who paid the officer’s full salary, the arrangement underscored the viability of shared costs.
“The resource officer not only helps the school but the community,” Marchiano said. Moreover, after sharing their school corridors with the officer, he said, “The kids do not look at the police the same way. They never will.”
Burdick reiterated the board’s support for such a program, saying, there’s “no question on the value. For me, it’s a question of what’s equitable.”
Addressing Adelberg, he said, “I think the most equitable way to do this is through the school board. I think you need to get it on the agenda.”