Amid public pressure, Narkewicz proposes cutting next year’s police budget

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Several thousand protesters, gathered on Center Street in front of the Northampton Police Department for a “Stand Up for Black Lives!” protest, listen to Jasmine Sinclair, center, with red mask, read a list of demands on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2020 6:30:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Mayor David Narkewicz is cutting his proposed budget for the city’s Police Department next fiscal year by more than $200,000 amid public pressure from residents in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and two protests that drew thousands to the city.

“I realize that our world has changed dramatically since I submitted this budget on May 18, 2020,” Narkewicz wrote to council president Gina-Louise Sciarra on Monday. “I am committed to working with the City Council to address the larger systemic issues of institutional racism and bias laid bare once again by the tragic killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020.”

In the letter, Narkewicz outlined plans to withdraw his proposal to increase the city’s police budget in fiscal 2021, which begins July 1, by nearly $194,000. In its place is a new budget request that calls for the police department budget to be about $19,000 less, or .28%, than the current fiscal year.

The proposal came after hours of public comment at two City Councilmeetings last week in which residents asked the council to reject a proposed increase in the police budget and instead decrease the department’s funding.

“As the City Council began deliberating the proposed FY2021 General Fund budget, it was apparent to me that there is a clear consensus among Councilors that the Northampton Police Department budget should not be increased,” Narkewicz wrote.

Councilors are expected to continue their discussion of the proposed city budget at a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday at 5 p.m. over Zoom. There will a public comment period, but it will not be longer than two hours, according to the meeting agenda. The City Council is only able to delete or decrease amounts in the budget and is not able to increase any items, per the city charter.

In Narkewicz’s initial proposal, the Police Department would have received a $6,913,403 budget next year, an increase of $193,579, or 2.88%. Roughly $140,000 of that was for contractual salary increases, $8,000 for training and around $45,000 would have gone toward replacing five gasoline-only police cruisers with hybrid vehicles.

But, after an outcry from residents, Narkewicz’s new proposal is to cut the $8,000 that Chief Jody Kasper said would be for training, keep the $140,000 in the budget “to honor our legally binding collective bargaining agreements consistent with all other city and school departments,” and reduce one line item from $350,825 to $146,262 by purchasing two hybrid replacement vehicles instead of five.

The new proposed budget for police is $6,700,759, or about $19,000 less than the current fiscal year.

At City Council meetings last week, many residents asked that cuts from the Police Department be redirected to social services. Citing uncertainty in state funding and due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the state has collected billions less than it expected to in taxes this year, the Boston Globe recenty reported — Narkewicz wrote that it’s likely that, in the future, there will need to be more cuts to the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.

“For those reasons,” he wrote, “this revised order defers any reallocation of funding until we have a clearer fiscal picture for FY2021.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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