Recently Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his executive budget for New York State for the fiscal year 2011-12. This is a reminder that City of Yonkers Mayor Philip Amicone and his staff have likely begun working on the City of Yonkers budget for the upcoming fiscal year as well. As a lifelong resident of Yonkers and a 22 year member of the Yonkers Police Department, I have to say that now is the time that the people of Yonkers should take stock in how and where our money is spent and demand fiscal responsibility from Yonkers City Government.
Several months ago, during the budget process for the current fiscal year, we did not see the Mayor take the necessary “line by line” approach to attack the budget or a true prioritization of what the city needs and does not. This is a process the people of Yonkers need and deserve. Instead what we saw was a sort of compartmentalization of the major city departments. What I mean is that the bigger departments, Police, Fire and Public Works were forced into a “save yourselves or else” situation with the threats of layoffs and demotions. This is an unfair and dangerous approach and the people of Yonkers have suffered because of it.
The Yonkers Police Department, facing the threat of layoffs and demotions was forced to make drastic cuts to an already depleted police force. Rather than cut from non-essential departments or address other costly and unnecessary items, Yonkers city officials chose to force the YPD to do away with essential foot posts, take police out of the schools and eliminate crucial units such as the Burglary Unit, Domestic Violence Unit and all plainclothes and auto crime units in East Yonkers, just to name a few. There have been serious consequences as a result of these unnecessary cuts.
Despite what some city officials say, Yonkers is not nearly as safe as they like to say it is. CQ Press’ City Crime Rankings lists Yonkers as the 131st safest city in the country in 2010-11. Daytime, gang related and drive-by shootings have become all too common and many of them are not reflected at all in the misleading UCR crime statistics that are often referred to. The unfortunate fact is that there are less police on the street today in Yonkers than there were a few years ago and this lack of manpower has contributed to the staggering truth that in 2010, there were 514 line of duty injuries to Yonkers Police Officers.
The Yonkers Police Department cannot afford to be cut any more. We have done more with less more than any other department in our city and to cut any further would prove disastrous. It is also important to note that only months ago, during the last budget crisis, the two police unions, the Yonkers PBA and CLSA made contractual concessions to help avert layoffs and to keep cops on the street. In addition, both police unions have been without a contract for well over a year, with no scheduled raises, as is the case with most of the Yonkers public employee unions. The Yonkers Police Department and both police unions have more than done their part in helping Yonkers to balance the budget. It is time that Yonkers city government do their part as well.
The people of Yonkers must compel their elected officials to truly prioritize in the 2011-12 budget. Before we attempt to reduce police services any more and further put the safety of our community in jeopardy we have to ensure that all other measures have been taken and that every possible cut has been made to non-essential services.
For instance, something must be done about the more than 170 City of Yonkers employees who do not contribute to the cost of their health care. A little known fact is that Yonkers public employee union members pay for their health care. New hires by the YPD, represented by the Yonkers PBA, contribute 35% of the premium cost of a family health insurance plan and 50% of an individual plan while the Mayor, the City Council, their staff members and many other City Hall employees contribute nothing.
Citizens of Yonkers also have the right to ask our elected officials to justify all non-essential personnel employed throughout the city. Many of these employees make well over $100,000 per year and enjoy take home cars and cell phones, all of which is paid for by Yonkers taxpayers.
We, the people of Yonkers, have the right to question the necessity of these jobs and the perks that come with them. These are only a couple of examples of items that should be addressed before we further chip away at the level of safety that Yonkers deserves. We, the people of Yonkers, have to stay informed and should attend Town Hall and City Council meetings to do so. We should contact the Mayor’s office and our City Council members to let our voices be heard. Most of all we must hold all of Yonkers city government responsible for making the right decisions during the next budget process.
Det. Keith Olson is the president of the Yonkers Police Benevolent Association (PBA).