Vero Beach council to dip into reserve to keep cops on road

VERO BEACH — During the morning session of the second day of city budget workshops, the Vero Beach City Council voted 4-1 to look at funding some salaries for police out of fund reserves.

The proposed $7.1 million police department budget — which is $3 million more than all the property taxes expected to be collected by the city next year — factored in one day per month furloughs for all 88 members of the police department.

“We spent more time with police and recreation than anybody else,” Gabbard said. “Sebastian has furloughed its police officers and they seem to be doing well.”

The furloughs were figured into the budget to avoid layoffs. All other city employees have been on furloughs since Oct. 1.

“We had to make some cuts and those were difficult decisions to make,” Dappen said. “I can’t afford to give up any more officers.”

Part of the cuts will affect school crossing guards in the city. Currently the city provides school crossing guards. Next year, under the proposed budget, the School District of Indian River County will need to provide those guards.

Dappen said he met with Superintendent Harry LaCava and suggested that parent volunteers be used.

“We have a certified trainer, it’s an 8-hour course we would provide the training,” Dappen said. “We would also provide the vests and things they would need.”

Dappen also said his zone officers would continue to monitor before and after-school traffic and would be near the schools when guards are on duty.

Councilman Tom White brought up the idea of putting money back into the budget, which was estimated at about $108,000, to spare officers on road patrol to ensure public safety.

“I’d not like to see us get any more less than what we have,” White said, emphasizing that adequate road patrol is an expectation of city residents and the 30,000-plus people who come in and out of the city every day.

Chief Don Dappen initially bristled at this idea, saying it would create friction among the ranks of his department.

“If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to do that for all my people,” Dappen said. “Detectives will put in requests en masse to transfer back to road patrol. It will create discord within the department that doesn’t need to be there.”

Gabbard said the police budget was the product of much thoughtful consideration to avoid painful cuts.

“Don had three positions last year and we could have held them open,” Gabbard said. “If you want to dip into reserves to put $108,000 back into the budget, I’m sure he’ll be glad and the citizens will be glad.”

Councilman Ken Daige suggested the funds be taken out of the department’s $207,400 overtime budget. Daige asked Dappen if any of that could be cut.

“No sir, not a dime,” Dappen said. “That was twice that amount last year and we’ve cut that down. We’ve cut over $50,000 in overtime.”

Instead of reducing coverage, Daige suggested Dappen put administrators back on the streets to keep the numbers of patrol officers up on the road. Daige also asked Gabbard if the police department finances had been analyzed by independent auditors in the past five years since Dappen has been promotes. Gabbard replied “no.”

The police budget includes a $280,00 increase in pension contributions, which we required the department to make cuts to offset that additional expense.

When the vote came down, instructions were given to come back with the exact cost of eliminating furloughs for all officers of the rank of Sergeant on down.

“What we need if it’s $108,000 or if it’s less or more, what we need is an explanation of what it consists of,” said Vice Mayor Sabin Abell.Placing any police employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement under furloughs would require striking a deal with the Coastal Police Benevolent Association.

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