Speed cameras, smaller police force considered in balancing Chestertown's budget

Chief John Dolgos tells the Chestertown Mayor and Council in the Monday, May 11 budget workshop that a downsizing of the police department from 12 to 11 officers who allow him to raise all salaries and still save the town at least $10,000.

CHESTERTOWN — No rate changes. No pay raises. No capital projects.

The town of Chestertown’s proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1, looks eerily similar to the current budget.

The mayor and council got their first look at the budget at a workshop Monday, May 11. There is a total projected deficit of $75,000 — $37,500 in the General Fund and an equal amount in operations for the Port of Chestertown Marina.

The deficit in the General Fund could be cut in half if the unnamed private funder of the Main Street Chestertown position renews a pledge of $18,700.

A second workshop will be held at 6 p.m. May 18, to be followed at 7:30 p.m. by the regular council meeting when the budget will be introduced as an ordinance.

Residents will have their chance to comment and ask questions at a June 1 public hearing that will precede the regularly scheduled meeting that night.

Monday’s workshop was held in the second floor meeting room in town hall and was livestreamed for public viewing. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Mayor Chris Cerino and council members Meghan Efland, Tom Herz and David Foster were there in person, each wearing a face mask and observing social distancing.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver participated by phone.

Seated in the audience, spaced out and also wearing face masks, were Police Chief John Dolgos, Utilities Manager Bob Sipes and a reporter from the Kent County News.

Dolgos, who ascended from lieutenant to top cop in September when the previous chief accepted the superintendent’s job with the Maryland Natural Resources Police, told the council he would be amenable to downsizing from 12 sworn officers to 11. He said he would use the salary and benefits package for a 12th officer for pay raises across the board, and still save the town $10,000 to $13,000.

There is no allocation in the proposed budget for training of a new hire.

“I’m trying to bring in good candidates and keep them for at least a couple of years,” Dolgos said, explaining that CPD’s current salary structure is not competitive with surrounding jurisdictions.

“I hate doing it,” Dolgos said of shrinking the workforce, “but it’s the only way to stop the ‘bleeding’ of losing guys.”

Dolgos said the tradeoff for a smaller force was higher pay, what he deemed to be a “reward” for seasoned officers who choose to stay.

“Experience can be priceless,” he told the council.

Currently, the CPD has only nine officers due to turnover.

In answering a question from Efland, Dolgos said a department of 11 officers may keep overtime costs flat. Staying with nine officers will surely increase the overtime.

The council seemed amenable to Dolgos’ suggestion, but tasked him with researching the salary schedule for municipal police departments in Centreville, Denton and Berlin — said to be comparable to Chestertown — and the sheriff’s offices in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties.

Dolgos also suggested speed cameras as a way to bring in much-needed revenue. He told the council that four cameras at two locations could generate as much as $1 million in fines in the first year. The number would drop off by as much as 40% in the second year.

According to Dolgos, the speed camera on state Route 291 near Chestertown Christian Academy brings in $113,000 a year.

RedSpeed, the company that owns the cameras, does all the setup with no cost to the town. It would take about 90 days to get the cameras in place, Dolgos said.

Anyone who is traveling 12 mph over the posted speed limit would be issued a citation for $40, with $25 going to the town and $15 to RedSpeed.

The tentative plan would be to set up the cameras southbound in the 300-block of Washington Avenue and westbound on state Route 291 in the area of the Kent-Queen Anne’s Rescue Squad. Both locations meet the criterion of being within a school zone.

The cameras’ primary objective is to slow down drivers.

“I like the idea of revenue and some residents will like it too,” Cerino said.

The mayor asked Dolgos to reach out to the State Highway Administration to see what support there is for additional speed cameras “before we get too much momentum on this.”

At first blush, town officials tried to cut costs without cutting services, though Cerino did suggest they consider eliminating curbside recycling. Cost to the town is $62,000.

A firestorm of protest protected the recycling program last year, when it was put back in the budget following the public hearing.

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