A divided Dover City Council voted to table a formal request to hire three police officers due to a budget shortfall anticipated to reach $3.5 million for the 2013 fiscal year.

A divided Dover City Council voted to table a formal request to hire three police officers due to a budget shortfall anticipated to reach $3.5 million for the 2013 fiscal year.

The vote came after a meticulous, impassioned debate in which council members discussed the merits of a Dover Police Department hiring additional officers each at a cost of at $45,094 per year right away to help deal with rising crime versus the city’s ability to even pay for the positions.

Furthermore, the debate came before a packed crowd of onlookers who shouted down council’s decision to table the matter, with a couple catcalls of “shame, shame.” Their displeasure arose mainly from the fact that their ability to speak publicly was negated when the measure was tabled.

Council President Thomas Leary (At Large) called for order in the chambers. He even threatened to have council chambers cleared if need be.

Councilman David Anderson (Fourth District) and Councilman Sean Lynn (Third District) asked Leary to put the vote before the full council in a maneuver that bypassed the usual route of being vetted by council's Legislative, Finance, and Administration Committee. They did so with the help of Councilwoman Sophia Russell (Fourth District) and Councilman David Bonar (Third District).

Lynn said the maneuver was necessary because two attempts to bring it before the Legislative & Finance Chairman Councilman William P. McGlumphy (Second District) failed.

McGlumphy, one of council’s budget hawks, peppered Dover Police Chief James Hosfelt with several questions about the finances behind hiring patrolmen  given the city’s projected budget deficit of $3.5 million.

Hosfelt said city council authorized the police department to have 93 officers. But two retirements and one resignation had depleted the force to 90, he said. In the paperwork submitted to City Council, Hosfelt asked for permission to hire three patrolmen. But, he was only able to find two qualified applicants able to take the job immediately without having to go through the expense of a police academy class.

“It is essential for the department to maintain personnel to provide all levels of safety for the citizens of Dover,” Hosfelt said.

However, Councilman James L. Hutchison Sr. (First District), a former police chief and Dover mayor, said no one in the room supported the police department as much as he. But it was a tough time for the city to hire right now, he said.

“Currently, we are down 21 people throughout the city,” he said. “I would like for you to give the city manager [Scott Koenig] time to review this and come back with a recommendation.”

Councilwoman Beverly C. Williams (First District) said she chaired the council committee that recommended increasing the authorized strength of the police department by three positions to 93. But with the city $3.5 million in the hole, the only thing it could do to hire additional police officers would be to raise taxes, she said.

“My concern is that we would be hiring three officers only to be in the position of laying them off a month from now – not just the three but a lot more,” Williams said.

But Anderson, traditionally another budget hawk, became emotional as he spoke about his 14-year-old son recently being accosted by a group of “wannabe gangstas” that robbed him as he went out to the family car. Anderson also worries about rising crime inhibiting his wife’s ability to take a walk after dinner in

Bonar said he would be willing to raise taxes in order to hire more police officers. He cited regularly heard gunshots in his nice neighborhood on State Street as reason enough.

“I don’t want to raise taxes,” Bonar said. “But I do not want to see our men and women not have back up.”

In a lengthy exchange, Lynn asked Hosfelt several questions about crime rising. In one of the statistics given by Hosfelt, there had been five homicides so far in 2011 in Dover compared to seven homicides from 2006 to 2010.

But Russell took exception with Lynn’s “leading” questions. She urged fellow council members to give Koenig more time to crunch the numbers.

Councilman William Hare agreed with the majority – that the city manager and his staff needed more time. The three officers have been gone a while, he said.

“I’d rather be sure that when we bring them in, we’re not going to let them go,” Hare said. “Is six or seven weeks going to be an issue?”

“If you’re the next victim, it’ll matter to you, sir,” Hosfelt replied.

Hare maintained the city needed more time before making a hasty decision.

However, he chided the city of Dover for some of its budget priorities in recent years. Specifically, he criticized the city for the construction of a new, $20 million Dover Library in the final year of construction – funded with city and state funds – only to find itself struggling to hire policemen.

“What’s more important? That Taj Mahal library or police,” he said. “It’s clear.”

Anderson pointed to New York City as an example of a city that committed itself to bolstering the police department’s ranks despite the fact that it was once on the verge of bankruptcy. The move paid off as investment returned to New York, he said.

Because the matter was tabled, the irate crowd was not allowed to speak. However, in a motion by Lynn, seconded by Anderson, council voted 5-4 to suspend the rules and allow Dover Police Detective David Spicer to speak on the matter. Spicer is president of the Dover Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #15 – the police union.

Spicer spoke of the Uzi submachine gun, sawed off shotgun and AK47 assault rifle police have recently encountered while on the job. He argued that only a show of force by police would continue to effectively thwart crime in the city.

“This is not small town Dover anymore,” Spicer said. “You’re setting us up for failure.”

Lynn and Anderson also moved during the 15-minute time alloted before the 7:30 p.m. start time of the regular meeting to suspend the rules and allow those present to voice their opinions on the measure. But Deputy City Solicitor William W. Pepper Sr. said the motion was out of order.