Middletown’s public safety budget expected to jump $2M in 2023

Additional police officers, fire marshal needed in the city, according to City Manager Paul Lolli.

Middletown City Council member Rodney Muterspaw said the needs of the city’s public safety department have been ignored for three decades.

Hiring additional police officers and firefighters is a “desperate need” in the city, said Muterspaw, who spent 30 years with the Middletown Division of Police, five as police chief.

City Manager Paul Lolli, formerly the city’s fire chief, made a public safety budget presentation during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. He said the city needs to hire more members to work in public safety to reduce the amount of overtime and emotional and physical strain on the employees.

His 2023 budget proposal called for hiring eight police officers and one fire marshal.

Those hires and the salary increases would jump the projected police department budget from $13.3 million this year to $15.2 million in 2023, an increase of 13.4%, Lolli said. The fire department would jump from $10.9 million this year to $11.1 million in 2023, or 1.6%, he said.

Overall, the two public safety departments would see their budgets jump from $24.3 million this year to $26.3 million, or 7.5%, next year, Lolli said.

Of the eight hires in the police department, three would be patrol officers and one in narcotics. Those positions would be paid out of the city’s general fund, Lolli said. The three school resource officers would be fully funded by the Middletown City School District and the one traffic officer would be funded through the Middletown Municipal Court, according to Lolli.

Lolli said the fire department used to have two fire marshals, but one position was eliminated in 2014. He said the one fire marshal has worked “significant” overtime.

Since Muterspaw and Lolli were hired 30 years ago, the number of firefighters has dropped from 92 to 81 and police officers from 93 to 67, they said.

Lolli called it “a personal crisis” in the city.

The low staffing is creating more overtime and a drop in employee morale. The city is losing too many public safety employees to neighboring communities, said police Chief David Birk and Lolli.

“We have to put a tourniquet to stop the bleeding,” Lolli told council.

“It has taken a toll on officers,” said Birk, who added his department has three vacancies it’s trying to fill. “We’re at a breaking point. We definitely need help.”

Lolli predicted the general fund balance would drop from $15 million this year to $11 million in 2023. He said the city needs to “balance” the needs of human resources and capital improvements.

It will be up to the city’s economic development department to make up the difference by increasing the tax base, said Lolli, who called that “a lofty goal.”

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