Milton passes 2014 budgetPolice cell phones reinstated last minute
Milton — Milton Town Council approved the fiscal year 2014 budget at its Sept. 23 meeting, but not without a few last-minute changes.
In an effort to save the town money and reverse a decision to eliminate police officer cell phones, Chief William Phillips offered to allocate money from a Sussex County grant to fund the phones.
Phillips said it is important to have a direct line to his officers at all hours of the day.
“Sometimes when we have informants who give us information they need to get it to us right away, whether they are texting or calling us,” he said.
Mayor Marion Jones did not agree with Phillips' logic. She wanted to stick with council's original decision to cut the phones; she was the lone vote in opposition of approving the budget.
“I was not willing to compromise on the cell phone issue for the police,” she said. “Last week when the council agreed to reduce the police cell phones to four, my vote was based on principle.”
It is not required that all officers have a town-issued cell phone. If council's previous vote had stood, the police department would still have had four cell phones to distribute, likely for the four highest-ranked officers.
“For me, reducing the cell phones had nothing to do with money, so even when the Chief seemingly found money to support those phones, it was not what I agreed with. I voted my conscience,” Jones said.
The approved budget did not include a salary increase for new recruits or pay adjustments to the entire police department staff as recommended by the ad-hoc police committee. Councilman Michael Coté said the topic of police retention is an ongoing discussion in the personnel committee, and a budget amendment may be needed in the coming months.
What is included in the budget, however, is a 3 percent raise for all town employees. The pay increase is contingent on an employee's evaluation, which will be reviewed by the personnel committee.
The town also budgeted for nine police officers. The force is currently working with seven after three officers left the department in June.
As approved, the general fund is estimated to have a surplus of about $18,500; of that, $12,500 is dedicated to capital expenditures. The town's proprietary fund, which encompasses the water department, shows a surplus of about $112,000 with an additional $29,000 for capital expenditures. Coté said $110,000 was approved for specified capital expenditures in the proprietary fund.
Now that her first budget as mayor is in the rear-view mirror, Jones said, she is happy with the way the process went.
“I was very pleased to see the budget process go so smoothly this year,” she said. “As stated before, the town has a number of very talented people on council, and even though it took us just a wee bit longer to get the thing passed, I am happy with how we did it.”
In future budget years, she said, she would like to see more revenue coming into the town.
“I said during the election how I would like to do so much more than pay the bills through operating costs, but ... there appears to be little left over to tackle the really large projects, such as infrastructure,” she said. “We are moving forward, however, and need to be mindful of possible opportunities available to us to accomplish much more.”