CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Last week’s public hearing on the town’s 2021 budget demonstrated in stark fashion that a majority of Town Board members remain uncomfortable with the prospect of decreasing the law enforcement line by $200,000.
The line covers the yearly cost to the town for patrols by the New York State Police as well as deputies from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department. The town has had contracts with the two agencies for more than 15 years.
The public hearing on the preliminary budget comes after the Town Board has had final meetings with department heads. In the past, most adjustments made to the preliminary budget have been minor.
Not this year.
The Nov. 5 public hearing included an extended summary of a proposal to combine two departments into one and a presentation by a representative of the New York State Police on a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the town and the state law enforcement agency.
The discussion that followed the presentation centered on the potential for reducing the budget line for law enforcement by $200,000. At the center of that discussion was the fact that there are no monetary figures in the MOU or the number of patrols or the hours of service that are to be dedicated to the town.
The MOU is good for 10 years. It states, the “STATE POLICE has agreed to provide increased police presence and level of protection throughout the area”.
The proposal to reduce the budget line was discussed two weeks ago when the tentative budget was released. By reducing the expenditure the town would retain $200,000.
Making the pitch at the public hearing for cutting the line and retaining the funds was Supervisor Philip Barrett. Questioning the action were the other four board members; Amy Standaert, James Whalen, Lynda Walowit and Anthony Morelli.
Standaert said she has sought answers from Barrett to her budget questions surrounding the reduction from Barrett for the past two weeks and received no response. She noted the absence of monetary figures in the MOU and asked him why the line was being reduced.
She also wanted to know whether the NYSP would guarantee the town will receive the same number of patrols in 2021 that it received in 2020.
“Even with the presentation we had tonight on the MOU by the (NYSP) sergeant I still don’t see where the $200,000 reduction is being made,” she said. “I do not support cutting $200,000 from our law enforcement budget. I’m looking for answers. I want to support our law enforcement.”
Barrett contends the location of the NYSP substation in the town’s public safety building is a prime location; one seen as an important benefit to the law enforcement agency. He believes the value of the free space has increased over the years. Coupled with improvements the town will make to the space as per the MOU, the NYSP apparently agrees the budget line can be reduced.
Whalen also questioned the reduction.
“It defies logic,” he said. “They’re going to turn down $2 million in the next 10 years for $50,000 in facility improvements? Will the level of protection be the same?”
“Absolutely,” Barrett responded.
“It strains credulity,” Whalen said.
Standaert said it was becoming apparent there was a need to revisit the MOU. “We want the number of shifts from them,” she said.
Board member Lynda Walowit agreed with Standaert’s position. She questioned why the number of shifts provided to the town by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department is easy to obtain and those from the NYSP are not.
Newly appointed Councilman Anthony Morelli questioned what the town has been getting for the contract during the past 20 years.
“Are we going to get more clarification,” Standaert asked.
“I don’t know what more I can provide,” Barrett responded. “They certainly wouldn’t abandon us. I don’t think you can find a better piece of property.”
With neither side moving on the issue, the $200,000 budget expenditure is still part of the 2021 budget. In order to accommodate the expenditure and accommodate an additional $90,000 expenditure for road paving costs, the preliminary budget was $90,000 more than the tentative budget.
Barrett turned to the other board members and asked for ideas. Whalen suggested the money be taken from the town’s surplus which is estimated to be approximately $8 million.
With no formal vote being taken, the issues of using the surplus funds and keeping the law enforcement expenditure line remain in question.
The following day Standaert reiterated her position on revisiting the MOU and getting a clearer picture on coverage by the NYSP.
“My job is to make sure Clifton Park stays safe,” she said. “We are willing to pass the MOU without question but there are no numbers in it. We need a guarantee the coverage has not been cut.”
Reflecting on tentatively using $90,000 from the surplus fund Standaert said there is a chance the transfer will never have to be made.
“But I would be derelict in my duties if I could not guarantee we have the coverage,” she said.
CORRECTION: A quote attributed to Clifton Park Supervisor Philip Barrett in a story from the Nov. 6 issue containing the word “dispute” was an error. The quotation should read: “I find if you give more work to someone who’s busy, nine times out of 10 they won’t disappoint you.”