C’dale retooling budget policies

John Stroud

The recent move by the town of Carbondale to consider pulling out of the interagency Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team (TRIDENT) is part of a broader policy shift regarding the town’s budget.What the police department might accomplish by employing more of a “community policing” approach is something other town departments can benefit from as well, said new Town Manager Tom Baker.The town’s Board of Trustees and senior staff have spent the past two Tuesday-night meetings outlining the policies that will guide the 2005 budget process this fall, from police and public works to planning and recreation.”As we’ve been going through this exercise, we realized that community policing is a problem-solving technique, and a direction we need to move in with the rest of town government,” Baker said.It’s a process that involves a lot of new terms, at least as far as Carbondale is concerned – such as “community governance,” “social ecology” and “governance partnerships” – but one that simply means “creating a way to think about the budget in terms of providing for the people what they want and expect,” Baker said.As part of the trustees’ recent directives to Baker and Police Chief Gene Schilling regarding police department policies and procedures, the town may very well end its relationship with TRIDENT, which pools the resources of valley law enforcement agencies, along with federal grant money, to engage in undercover drug investigations and busts.But some citizens and elected officials have questioned the agency’s focus on street-level dealers and users, as well as its aggressive investigative and arrest techniques, as countering Carbondale’s community policing goals.”The police department has committed itself to looking at alternatives for drug and alcohol education and enforcement; ones that focus on problem-solving rather than just reacting to calls for service,” Baker said.”TRIDENT takes a lot of resources, and if we can use those resources more effectively in a different way, it’s appropriate to look at that,” he said. “It’s nothing against regional cooperation, but a town has to make sure it’s taking care of the needs of the town first.”Carbondale allocates roughly $56,000 a year to TRIDENT, including one full-time officer who’s assigned to work with TRIDENT, and roughly $6,000 over and above the officer’s wages and benefits.Baker said the idea behind community policing is to employ a more local, problem-solving approach, not just with drug enforcement, but across the board.”What many agencies have found is that recidivism is reduced, which over time reduces the level of resources required,” he said.Among the other policies that will guide the 2005 budget discussions will be a more liberal projection of revenue projections, based on recent trends.The economic downturn of the past two years prompted the town to budget for flat revenues, including sales taxes, for 2004. According to the latest sales tax figures, though, collections are up 8 percent over last year through August.”It’s staff’s expectation that this increase will continue, but at a slightly lower trend,” according to a Sept. 14 staff memo regarding the upcoming budget.”It is easy to understand how inflated revenue projections can create chaos in an organization (if they don’t materialize),” according to the memo. “What is not so easy to grasp is how an inappropriately conservative revenue projection hampers the Board of Trustees’ ability to move forward on the desired town agenda.”Trustees have agreed to base the 2005 budget on a projected 4 percent increase in revenues, while still maintaining a general fund reserve balance of $2 million.