Public safety concerns raised at Monday's commission meeting came after an ordinance—which would demote every administrative position in the police department except the police chief's—was approved.
Mayor James Maley said the ordinance will affect the following positions:
"We're laying off two patrolmen. To make that up, our two (current) lieutenant positions will both be demoted to sergeant positions," said Maley. "And our two current platoon sergeants, as well our detective sergeant, would be (demoted) to patrol positions. So we'd be adding three more officers on the streets."
Maley said demotions are a necessary part of the borough's proposed 2011 budget—which was introduced Monday night. The budget proposes implementing a 2-percent cap, the state's tax limit. The cap, said Maley, prohibits the borough from raising police salaries by a union-requested 4 percent this year.
But a 2-percent cap, according to commissioners, will affect more than just police—property owners would see an annual tax increase of roughly $150. But police demotions, not property taxes, raised the most concern on Monday.
Police Superiors, the union representative of Collingswood officers—a Public Works Teamsters' Union is also in contract negotiations—originally requested a 4 percent police salary raise this year, which Maley said the borough can't match.
The borough's been negotiating contracts with both unions for four months, said Maley, to try and agree on a smaller percentage. While unions have since lowered their original 4-percent request—to 3.5 percent—it's still too-high a number.
Since no agreement has been reached, Maley said the borough had to act.
"(Contract negotiations) have not gone well. It's been very difficult," said Maley. "(Unions) came in, seeking a 4-percent increase and benefits. The budget we're introducing tonight (and its proposed 2-percent cap), we're not happy about.
"This ordinance restructures the superior level of the police department. (All parties) will be in arbitration soon—as the borough's filing for arbitration," said Maley. "And we have to do it quickly, because the further into our calendar year we get, we'll have a shorter period of time to make up money."
Collingswood Police Department's hierarchy system is being demoted almost entirely, starting this week.
"This week, we'll be sending layoff notices to two officers, (and also sending) demotion notices to virtually every superior officer," said Maley Monday night. "Layoffs won't be effective until May 10."
Once official notice is given, via R.I.C.E. letters, the department will no longer employ police lieutenants. A lieutenant's duty—reporting directly to the chief—will become a sergeant's responsibility. Only one position won't be demoted, chief of police, a title held by Richard J. Sarlo. Sarlo was present on Monday night.
Monday's municipal budget introduction is not finalized. The introduction came earlier than expected, Maley said, in order to meet state requirements.
"This 2-percent cap we're living under, we have to make changes. (This year) our spending will go down about $900,000 than last year," he said. "We have a $150 tax increase. If (Collingswood) were a privately-owned small business, we'd have to close up shop—it's not working.
"In the past few years, our budget's gone down...then last year we had the biggest increase ever. This cap is changing the way we all operate," said Maley. "This cap means somebody goes; a body has to go. We're not allowed to spend anymore. So tonight's ordinance (demotions) is linked to that—in the realm of restructuring."
Maley said police demotions will save the borough around $175,000.
Four people spoke out against the ordinance during Monday's public session, with Heights of Collingswood resident Stephne' R. Coney—executive director of Camden City-based National Stop the Violence Alliance—voicing deep concern.
"I deal a lot with police officers," said the anti-violence advocate. "My comfort, and one of the reasons I moved to Collingswood, is because of your public safety. My concern with demotion is low morale. And with low morale, you get lack of productivity. Morale goes down, and the (quality of) public safety does change.
"Where is administration? If you demote everyone, there's no one left to administrate," Coney continued, her voice rising. "I've lived at the Heights of Collingswood for (many) years, and I've seen drastic change. I close my eyes one day, wake up and I'm in hell. I'm hearing about (gangs) coming in, I'm hearing about drugs. I didn't move to Collingswood to live in the projects."
After a momentary pause, Maley addressed Coney's concerns.
"We're not taking police off the street, not losing officers. Demotions actually add three officers to patrol. Office and paperwork will be affected most, not safety," he said. "We're concerned about police, too. No other borough department operates the way (the police department) did. We've got to make it work, one way or another. But it could all be resolved by getting contracts signed."
While Maley said demotions aren't directly linked to Camden County's recent, countywide police and fire department proposal, they fit into the same concept.
"Everyone's been talking about this county police and fire system. We're meeting with police and fire committees tomorrow at 1 p.m., regarding (regionalization)," Maley said.
"(Hypothetically, in county police and fire efforts), the county is trying to pay for something that'll be a win for everyone—without paying for extra things we don't need. That (mentality) is why we're restructuring here (the Collingswood Police Department). It's also why we're talking about countywide services."
Maley said there's also been talk of regionalizing detective forces, in the future.
Presently, though, Maley said borough police demotions stem from the past.
"I've been working for three years to avoid laying off officers. But there've been lay-offs," he said. "Last year I sat down with the police union, and told them if everyone took a 2-percent raise instead of over 3 percent we could save a (police department) job. And the union decided, 'Lay them off, then.' Given the world's circumstances, these really aren't crazy concessions we're requesting this year."