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Harrison Board, Residents Spar Over Town Budget

HARRISON, N.Y. - Sgt. Vito Castellano and his fellow officers asked Harrison's Town Board Thursday night to reconsider the proposed 2012 budget and staff more police officers to better serve the town.

"Receiving all the necessary requested budget items would allow our department to operate efficiently and proactively," Castellano said. "The nominal cost to taxpayers will ensure they receive the level of public safety that they expect and deserve."

Thursday night's Town Board meeting became confrontational at times when residents and town department heads spoke during a public hearing on Harrison's 2012 budget. After a heated debate over town finances, the board voted to recess the budget discussion until Dec. 15.

The Harrison Police Department asked the board to allow room in the budget for more staffing and training time, adding that its proposal would cost Harrison taxpayers roughly 30 cents per day, per taxpayer. Though the board didn't grant the department an item-by-item approval, it was given funding to hire three more officers.

"We did not do this budget in a vacuum," Mayor/Supervisor Joan Walsh said.

Councilman Joe Cannella echoed Walsh's message to the department.

"The town tried the best it could to address the department's concerns," Cannella said. "In a perfect world, we could do more. The department's man power will still increase, according to the preliminary budget."

Prior to the public hearing, Comptroller Maureen MacKenzie announced changes to the budget in which $39,000 in raises were removed. Walsh said the changes were news to her and were made by the three majority Republicans on the board.

"These changes are a surprise to me and I oppose them," Walsh said.

Cannella defended the cuts, citing difficult economic times.

"We have to deal with reality," Cannella said. "It's difficult. This is not a reflection of a lack of appreciation for the efforts of our town employees. Our world is not of our own making."

The police weren't the only residents sounding off over the budget. Harrison resident Lucille Held addressed the board to ask it to consider how surrounding communities handle their finances in regards to departments such as the police, ushering in an uproar of political and sometimes personal commentary.

After being interrupted several times by town officials for what board members said were off-topic comments, Held warned the board of overpaying town employees and overspending on the budget.

"We've got one foot out of the mud," Held said. "We need to be careful moving forward."

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