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  • Writer's pictureTricia Babischkin

A Tale of Two Departments

Let's start with a story:

When I was teenager, my father's fire department got the most adorable remote controlled fire engine to teach kids about fire safety. Freddy was about the size of those battery powered kids cars, had a two-way radio, remotely operated and had BIG headlight eyes that blinked. Everyone loved Freddy -- kids, parents, adults, everyone. Now, Freddy's most common 'operator' was a fireman with a WICKED sense of humor. The stories that included him were the kind you'd repeat and everyone would hoot with laughter.

So, one of the downtown festivals, that are common in beach towns in Florida, was going on and Freddy was out and about teaching every kid about stop, drop, and roll and not to ever touch matches. It just so happened that Freddy rolled up upon a group of motorcycle cops on one of the side streets chatting and watching out for the crowd. Freddy, being Freddy, rolled right up the an parked motorcycle and said brightly, "Hello." The cops looked perplexed but basically ignored this tiny toy. Freddy asked, "Hello?" and slow blinks at the motorcycle. Finally, when the motorcycle continued to stay silent, Freddy announces loudly, "My chief lets me talk, doesn't yours?" All the firemen (and crowd nearby) laugh as the cops generally scowled.

That, my friends, is good natured interdepartmental rivalry. Let's face it, every city, village, or township has a finite amount of funds and the administrations have to figure out a way to meet the needs of that municipality while keeping to this tight budget. Add to this that every area of the government tends to have ever growing needs -- and all of them come with a cost. So, it's not uncommon for department heads to have the working equivalent of 'sibling rivalry' when it comes to budgets.

However it goes all wrong when the administration pits departments against each other. Much like a favored child who gets all the fanfare and presents, the parents are wrong; not the children.

What does this mean? Well, when our CAO and President conspire (truthfully the only word for it) to give an incredibly lopsided budget to our Public Works department while our Police Department is quite literally stuck on the side of the road, we have a SERIOUS problem.

Since 2018, the capital budget for vehicles has authorized about $770,000 on Public Works vehicles (3 - New Large Pick-Ups ($120K); 2 - New Salt Trucks ($200K); and 1 Sewer Vac($450K with financing and camera)) In the same time period, our police department has gotten ONE new squad car (Cars costs about $35,000 fully fitted for use). I see a little problem.

First, you might say -- oh, well they come out of different budgets --- actually, they don't. When the CAO started, it appears she moved the vehicle purchases from the department budgets in the General Fund to the Capital Fund AND combined them into one line item. This further hides that the money is being spent solely in one department (anyone surprised that this is the department most similar to our President's pre-retirement career?) and not another.

Surely, the police cars are all in good condition and don't need to be replaced, right? Wrong. The average milage of 3 of the four cars is about 90,000 miles -- the newest car has under 30,000. There are four cars in our police fleet. As of my last update, one of them is completely down with a blown engine. On the day the Vactor Truck was approved, I believe the police had half the cars off the road for repairs. Did the board know this? Were they aware that had they chosen a slightly used vactor truck the police could have replaced the blown engine AND the village would have saved money overall? Did they care (and isn't that in itself the problem)?

It gets a little bit better because apparently our CAO and President are completely ok with our highly trained police force doing auto repair on the side (I will point out, they are keeping the elderly car fleet running on their OWN time) because they also cut the maintenance budget. If you are not going to approve a new car to replace the one that's out of service (and possibly more than one that is desperately needed) wouldn't you increase the maintenance budget to keep the officers moving? Keep in mind that since our officers do this on their personal time (and in some cases with personal funds) speaks volumes to the integrity and loyalty of our officers and the judgement and wisdom of both Chief Richardson and Chief Roth.

So, on the fateful night when the Vactor Truck was approved, what played out was the result of the favorite children getting the very best, while the other departments didn't even get scraps. It was reported that Todd said something about remember this when you need help -- but I think (and once the recording of his testimony comes out, I'll confirm) that what he actually said was "Remember this when I have to borrow one of those new pick-ups to respond [to a call]."

I don't have anything against Public Works -- I actually want them to have the tools they need to do important things like solve the flooding, repair the roads, fix the street signs so they aren't rotting at the bottoms, etc. But you know what else I want?? I want my police department to have the vehicles to patrol our streets. I like seeing the officers drive up and down my road, enforce speed limits, enforce weight limits on the big trucks. I believe that we are a safer community when our officers are in their cars driving through the neighborhoods and not under them trying to get them moving again.

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