October 24, 2012

Malone police force not guaranteed in dissolution


---- — MALONE — An expert told Malone residents Tuesday they should not expect to have a police department if they vote to dissolve the village next month. 

The town is not obligated to create a police force even though it is recommended in the dissolution study the Village Board commissioned earlier this year.

“Voters should assume they will not have a police department if the town is not giving some kind of assurances,” said Wade Beltramo, general counsel to the New York State Conference of Mayor.

He gave a two-hour presentation to about 35 people at Franklin Academy Tuesday night and said dissolution is ultimately a town issue because the town determines how services will be provided and the state decides how towns tax village residents.

“You’re paying and subsidizing town operations,” Beltramo said.

If the village dissolves, the town tax village owners pay goes away, so “there will be a huge source of tax savings, but not necessarily cost savings,” he said. 

Special districts would be formed for those using the service to pay for them such as street lights, sidewalks, liabilities and debt and leaf collection, so any anticipated savings might be wiped away, he said.

And as expected, police protection was the issue most asked about because residents want assurances they will have coverage if the village dissolves.

When asked earlier this week if they favor a townwide force, three Town Council members said they oppose it, and two want a cheapest solution possible — whether it’s establishing a special district or reconfiguring how the Village Police Department is structured.

If dissolution is approved, all village government goes away as of Dec. 31, 2014, and governmental responsibility reverts to the Town Council.

The town would need State Legislature authorization to create a special police district in a designated portion of town.

But town law prohibits such fragmented police coverage. 

No state approval is needed if a town is to create a townwide force.

Beltramo said “the ‘pro’ of not having a police department is that taxes would go down dramatically. And village taxes would go down precipitously.” 

The Village Police Department costs taxpayers about $1.4 million, but there are no estimates on how much a townwide force may cost.

One factor is that the patrol territory would be nearly four times the size of the existing village territory.

There are 24.77 miles of village streets, according to the Department of Public Works and 97.09 miles of roads in the Town of Malone, according to the Highway Department.

The Village Police Department has 13 officers, including Chief Chris Premo, and a fleet of four vehicles.

The town would likely hire more officers and buy more vehicles, which could eat up any potential savings.

And it also raises residents’ concerns about increased response times in emergencies.

Town Council member Jack Sullivan is not in favor of a townwide force because of the volume of calls patrols would handle.

“In Seneca Falls, when they went to a townwide police department, the number of calls went up 305 percent,” he said. “And from my personal point of view, I don’t want to pay more money for the same protection.”

He lives in the town and has had to rely on the State Police. 

“And when we’ve called, they responded quickly,” he said. “I don’t want to change that. And a townwide force can be very expensive.”

Town Supervisor Howard Maneely is also opposed.

“I don’t think the taxpayers can afford a townwide police force. And if they do dissolve the village, I will be pushing to create a special police district.”

Maneely said Town Council members haven’t discussed their views, but “it’s hard to keep the budget in line, and it would be unfair to everybody in the town if we went to a townwide department. We have good State Police coverage now.”

Council member Mary Scharf is also against the idea, at least initially.

“I’m in favor of creating a police district, and if that fails, then I’d favor a townwide police force,” she said, adding that Sen. Betty Little told her she would support state approval of a special policing district.

Scharf said village residents have made it clear they want police protection, and town residents don’t want to pay more, “so a district satisfies both feelings.”

She said businesses west of the village on Route 11 call Village Police for assistance but pay nothing toward the cost.

But that would change, Scharf said.

“If you’re in the district, you pay for the service. If you’re not in the district, you don’t,” she said.

Councilor Louise Taylor favors a townwide force, but “the problem is we didn’t have all the facts about how to go about doing it” when the dissolution study came out.

She said there are not concrete numbers on cost, which is the bottom line to her if it comes before the Town Council.

“We need a little more in terms of facts to go by, but it has worked in other villages,” Taylor said. “We’ll have to look at it both ways, but I want to see if there will be savings.

“I have great respect for the Village Police and the State Police, but the State Police have to patrol all the way across the border so we can’t totally rely on the State Police when Malone police can be somewhere in two minutes,” she said.

“I’m not against townwide police, but I think if we had more time, we would’ve been able to get more definite answers and get them in writing,” Taylor said.

Councilor Paul Walbridge wants to see if the state will grant a special district first, “but I don’t know if that would happen.

“If not, then I’m in favor of a townwide plan, but it would be up to me on how it would be set up.”

He is employed by the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and said corrections officers are peace officers just like police officers.

Walbridge proposes hiring some corrections officers part-time to act as meter maids, dispatchers and patrol officers for a townwide force.

The part-timers could not necessarily make arrests, “but they can hold people,” he said, and because the prison staff is covered by DOCCS insurance, there would be no insurance costs to the town and they would not be town employees.

He said he’d use this contracted part-time staff together with beefed up Neighborhood Watch initiatives.

According to the Franklin County Personnel office, police officers are Civil Service jobs that require the people to take qualifying examinations and finish in the top three slots to be eligible to accept a position.

They take extensive training at a police academy to earn their police-officer credentials.

Corrections officers also take a Civil Service exam, but they receive less formal training, serve as facility guards and cannot make arrests.

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