July 9, 2008
As budgets tighten —
Some villages look at police departments
Municipalities have turned to county sheriffs, State Police for coverage to save money
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Peter Hughes of the Groton Police Department uses his laptop inside his patrol vehicle Tuesday. Some residents and elected officials in smaller towns and villages are suggesting elimination of their police departments to save money. Groton spends about $150,000 a year on its police department and village officials say they support keeping the department.
McGRAW — The village went without a police officer during a five-month period starting in late October last year, and for one Village Board member the absence has reinforced the idea of abolishing the village police department.
The department costs the village about $33,000 a year.
“The State Police and Sheriff’s stepped it up,” said Village Board member Allan Stauber, who supports eliminating the police department. “They did a fine job at the end of last year. I had a number of comments from different residents that felt the same way at budget time.”
As local officials police departments across the area consider merging or dissolving small police departments, McGraw and other municipalities have joined the debate as budgets become tighter and savings are sought.
The village of Freeville ended its contract June 1 with the Dryden Police Department, and the village will save about $44,000 a year by relying on State Police and the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department.
Police coverage has not suffered since the change, said Freeville Mayor Lotte Carpenter.
The village had contracted with Dryden for 50 hours a week of coverage, including about 20 hours of patrol time. The village pays the county and state nothing for police protection.
“I know the Sheriff’s Department has been called to a couple of homes. ... You would expect the response time to be slower but it’s hasn’t been,” Carpenter said.
Tompkins County Sheriff Peter Meskill said the Sheriff’s Department did not add patrols or increase its spending as a result of the change.
Homer Mayor Mike McDermott said he does not see the village abolishing or merging its police department anytime soon, with 90 percent of village residents supporting the approximately $300,000 department in a recent survey.
Should the village’s finances worsen, he would be open to discussions with the county or city about merging forces.
The city would be the more likely partner, he said, with the nature of its caseload.
“The Sheriff’s Department deals with mostly rural areas,” McDermott said. “When you live in the village or city it’s a little different pile of work.”
The villages of Groton and Dryden also have no plans to seriously consider abolishing or merging their police forces with Tompkins County.
They could save money, but they worry police presence would suffer.
“We want to get the biggest bang for the buck for the taxpayers, even if it costs a little more,” Groton Village Board member Chris Neville said. “The cheapest option is not always the best route to go.”
Neville said the village spends about $150,000 a year on its police department. The village of Dryden spends about $ 445,000 a year on its police department.
In McGraw, some residents have been pushing to do away with the village police department and spend the money elsewhere.
In 2004, residents presented the Village Board with a petition signed by 200 people requesting the elimination of the department.
The board supported the police, and Stauber said other board members do not agree with his position.
Mayor Robert Freeman, and board members Pam Ross and Nancy Sandy could not be reached for comment this week.
This year the village ended up filling the officer vacancy with two part-time police officers.
Cortland County Sheriff Lee Price could not be reached Monday or Tuesday to comment about a potential merger with McGraw’s police department or the village of Homer’s police department.
In the event more Tompkins County municipalities, such as the villages of Dryden, Groton, Trumansburg or Cayuga Heights, give up their police forces in favor of county and state coverage, it is possible more county officers would have to be hired, Meskill said.
While county officers are paid better than police officers in certain village police departments, including Dryden and Groton, savings could result from the abolition of village administrative costs and liability insurance.
That is partly why taxpayers in the town of Clay are expected to save money through their police department merging with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department.
Clay residents backed the merger 4,160 to 1,865 on June 23.
The merging of the departments is expected to save town residents as much as $17 million over 10 years.
Sixteen Clay police officers were sworn in Monday as Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department police; three sheriff’s officers will patrol the town at all times.
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