More than 400 new police officers have been hired by eight North Hudson cities since 1995 under federal law enforcement grants, but there is now a question as to what will happen to the forces - and the taxpayers - when a quarter of the grants run out. Some officials believe tax hikes or layoffs are inevitable, but others say that local funding, political maneuvering and departmental retirements will offset the effects of grant termination. More than 100 of the officers in question were hired under $260 million in Universal Hiring Program (UHP) grants, a program implemented by President Bill Clinton that pays 75 percent of the officers' salaries and benefits for three years but does not pay afterward. By the time the grants expire, the officers will be earning a higher salary than when they started, and it will be up to municipalities to fund them. The other federal grants are probably not in jeopardy because they have been recurring yearly. The office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, administers the federal grants under several programs, including the UHP. The UHP grants fund up to a maximum of $75,000 per officer over a three-year period. According to figures from the COPS office, municipalities that will have to deal with UHP funds that expire in three years include: Hoboken, which hired 52 officers using nearly $3 million in COPS grants; Jersey City; which hired 39 officers using nearly $3 million; West New York, which hired five officers after receiving more than $375,000; Union City, which hired 10 officers after receiving $900,000; Secaucus, which hired 10 officers after receiving nearly $1 million, and Weehawken, which hired eight officers after receiving $597,675. There are no specific expiration dates for grants awarded to each town because grantees do not have to use funds immediately. So a town awarded a grant in '98 may have chosen to use it in '99, and funding will expire in 2002 rather than 2001. Depending on municipality, a first-year officer will earn anywhere from $23,000 to $32,000 with increments of up to $3,000 yearly. Applicants accept COPS grants with the understanding that local funds will kick in after three years to maintain newly hired officers. The Clinton administration is credited with initiating the 1994 Crime Act that authorized the COPS program. It sought to place 100,000 police officers on the streets by the year 2000, a goal that was met in May of 1999, according to the COPS office. The program's proponents can point to major crime drops in some cities, including several in North Hudson. With the power of statistics on their side, Democrats are quick to point out that Republicans opposed the program. But now, some Democrats admit that a possible termination of the COPS program is a cause for concern at the local level. "This was never intended to be a perpetual funding program," said Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) last week. "Municipalities knew from the very beginning that the assistance of the COPS program was to give them a period of time to bolster their departments and phase in the process of accommodating these police officers into their budgets." Applicants to the program were required to demonstrate that they could support hired officers for one year after funds ended. It is now up to each municipality to decide what will happen to its officers. "Circumstances change," said Michael Moriarty, director of the Jersey City Police Department. "You may keep them on, or maybe the city can't keep them on. Maybe you don't need to keep the same number of police officers after the end of the grants." Circumstances certainly do change, as evidenced with the Jersey City Police Department's recent promotion and then demotion of 14 officers after the state threatened to withhold $16 million in desperately needed aid. The state cited the city's violation of a state-mandated freeze on all hiring and promotions. With the city and state still in a heated debate over aid, and the inadequacy of local funds, it remains to be seen how the city will respond once federal police grants run out. Mayor Bret Schundler's spokesperson, Tom Gallagher, did not return calls for comment. But Moriarty said that after officers hired under the grant have provided four years of service, it is unlikely that anything will happen to them. All of this is not to say that police forces and expenses have swelled; some of the officers who were hired were replacing retiring high-ranking officers who had been earning much higher salaries. In addition, the cities have already been kicking in 25 percent of the new officers' salaries each year, so they are used to paying a portion of those amounts. But officials still believe there may be a problem. "It won't be easy to raise the money," said Hoboken Councilman-at-Large Tony Soares. "I think the citizens will be taxed. Grants run out, and the only resource left is the taxpayer." "When the grant runs out, the taxpayer will pick up those costs," said Secaucus Town Administrator Anthony Iacono. He added, "Maybe in a bigger town it will have a greater impact. The [Secaucus] taxpayer should not be concerned." Secaucus Police Chief Dennis Corcoran said no police layoffs are planned, but conceded that there could be a tax increase. "That's really irresponsible," said Union City Mayor Rudy Garcia, about predictions of tax increases. "That's three years from now. You can't predict that far." He added that it is unfair to have grants taken away after three years and would place the safety of Union City residents before all other matters. George Ortiz, a press secretary to Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), said, "Mayors and city councils will have to decide what's in the best interest of their community. I suspect they will be presented with having to make some real tough choices. Each local municipality will have to determine how they will respond once the funding has been exhausted." But some, like Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno, simply believe that the grant program will not end in the near future. "It's inconceivable to me that they will terminate at the point of expiration," LaBruno said. "We need these police officers with the way this city is moving forward. Politically, it would not be in the next president's interest to end this program. I think the concerns are without merit." If Congress approves a recent proposal by President Clinton, the COPS program could be extended into 2005. Clinton's 21st Century Policing Initiative would send 30,000 to 50,000 more police officers onto the streets in the next five years to the tune of $1.4 billion. Democrats say that a Republican-controlled Congress will jeopardize any attempts to extend the program. "If the Republicans retain control of the Congress," Ortiz said, "and if they win the White House, the COPS program is clearly in jeopardy." The National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican State Committee did not return calls for comment. But while talks of an extension continue, the COPS office is set to close this September, after which no new grants will be awarded, said Jessica Robinson, a spokesperson for COPS. "Right now, we are in limbo," she said. She added that the UHP grants that were already awarded will continue to be honored. Robinson said the COPS office was supposed to receive a final budget of $216 million before its September closure, but instead was given $913 million. She believes this is a positive sign for the extension of the COPS program. Even if there are no new grants, officials say there are options besides laying people off or hiking taxes. "You can negotiate with the unions," Moriarty said. "You can seek funds to keep these officers." There are also high numbers of veterans retiring, Moriarty said. "You have over a dozen officers retiring every year," he said. Most towns such as West New York and Union City are relying on retirements, promotions, and fewer supervisors to make room on the payrolls for newly hired officers. West New York is in the process of rebuilding its department after suffering a police corruption scandal and a lack of promotions for some time. Union City is enjoying its largest number of officers on the force right now, at 204, and will continue to apply for grants. Hoboken Public Safety Director George Crimmins said that in his town, costs for individual officers have been lowered. "A police officer takes seven years to get to the top of the pay scale," Crimmins said. "In the past, before 1994, [he] took three. We have 40 percent [of our officers] that are not at the top pay scale." With fewer numbers of superiors, early retirement programs, and a lengthened time period before officers receive promotions, Crimmins said, there is enough money to satisfy expanded payrolls. Soares, the Hoboken councilman, had an additional idea for funding the police force. He said perhaps an entertainment tax should be introduced for bars and nightclubs, since they demand high levels of police attention. He also said that studies should be done to find out how other cities are dealing with the expiration of the grants.