Busti Supervisor, Lakewood Mayor Talk Police Contract

BUSTI – How much are residents willing to pay for a municipal service?

Hopefully, this is a question each elected municipal official ask themselves when it comes to making tough decisions on whether to pay more or to eliminate a service.

In the case of the Lakewood-Busti Police Department, eliminating police services wasn’t an option for Jesse Robbins, Busti supervisor, or David Wordelmann, Lakewood mayor.

Last month, Busti and Lakewood officials agreed to a new five-year contract for police services. Since last summer, officials from both municipalities had been negotiating a new long-term contract agreement. The town of Busti contracts with the village of Lakewood for services from the Lakewood-Busti Police Department.

“In today’s age we don’t have much choice,” Robbins said when it comes to having a police department in the town. “We have 64 miles of road out there and it needs checked, and it is getting checked. Some people may say it is too much for the service, but look at the drug ring that was stopped. It was found by officers being out there patrolling. Busti is not Mayberry anymore.”

The drug ring Robbins referenced was the one busted by members of the drug task force, Lakewood-Busti Police Department, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office and county SWAT team when they executed search warrants on April 30. Two search warrants were executed simultaneously at 515 and 529 Busti-Sugar Grove Road. More than 500 marijuana plants were seized in what authorities called a sophisticated growing operation in the town of Busti.

The costs Busti taxpayers, outside of those who live in the village, pay for police services will go up once the new five-year contract starts in 2014. In November 2012, both parties agreed to a one-year contract extension so officials could continue discussing a new five-year deal. In the one-year deal, Busti officials agreed to pay $360,000, an increase of $20,000 or a 6 percent rise. In the new long-term contract, Busti will pay $390,000 in 2014, a $30,000 increase or an 8 percent hike. Then in the last four years of the contract, costs will increase $25,000 each year. In 2018, Busti residents will pay $490,000.

When the town of Busti paid $360,000 to the village of Lakewood for police services for 2013, it was about 28 percent of the more than $1.3 million Lakewood-Busti Police Department budget. During negotiations on a long-term contract, it was determined the police department answered around 37 percent of its calls in the town of Busti, excluding the village. Because of this number, Lakewood officials made it known they would like Busti residents to pay around 37 percent for police services. In the contract municipal officials agreed to, it stated town residents will pay $490,000 for the police department at the end of the contract. This total would be around the 37 percent of the department’s current cost.

“The goal is to pay for what we are receiving. Now we are paying for the services we are receiving,” Robbins said. “The town and village have had a long working relationship. We were sharing services before it was known as shared services.”

CONTRACT REVIEW STARTING JUNE 2015

In the contract, it states officials from both municipalities will be required to review the contract between June and October 2015 to determine if the level of service and schedule of fees is still equitable. Officials from both municipalities agree if payments and services aren’t similar that the schedule of fees for the remainder of the contract be modified, again.

“This ensures it is being looked at again even if we are not the mayor or supervisor at the time,” Wordelmann said. “It can be reviewed as far as the status of payments and coverage.”

Wordelmann said changes could come in several ways. One example, costs could decrease because of retiring personnel. The mayor said three senior police officers will be retiring. When they are replaced, it will be done by officers making less money.

“Ninety percent of the budget is employee costs,” Wordelmann said.

Also, the mayor said John Bentley, Lakewood-Busti Police Department chief, will be given a tighter budget for police services in the future.

“The days of just accepting the budget is going up are over,” Wordelmann said. “We’re getting to the point we’re going to give the police chief a number, and he is going to have to stick to that number.”

Wordelmann said both sides discussed having an inflation clause in the contract. However, a straight percentage wasn’t what town officials wanted because they have no control over the police department’s budget. Robbins said he preferred having a specific number for budgeting purposes. Also, because both municipalities have different budget years the town goes by the calendar year, and the village’s fiscal year is June 1 to May 31 made for difficulties in adjusting for inflation.

“In the end, we decided to have a mandatory review to see if the contract needs more discussion,” Wordelmann said.

The only elected officials to not approve the police services contract from either municipality is John Jablonski III, Lakewood trustee. According to the minutes from the village’s May 13 meeting when they passed the contract, Jablonski said he commends Wordelmann and Joseph Troche, former village trustee, on negotiating a new contract. However, he said he couldn’t approve the contract because it doesn’t account for inflation.

OPT OUT CLAUSE

According to the contract, if prior to April 1, 2016, town officials can notify the Village Board they want to opt out of the contract. If they do, then the contract will end May 31, 2017. Wordelmann said the 13-month window is to give time for both municipalities to adjust for the change.

“We realized last fall when negotiating, we (Lakewood) could be in a bad situation if we don’t reach an agreement,” he said. “Without the town’s money, we wouldn’t have the same department. It would be much smaller without the town.”

Robbins said when negotiating a new contract he researched how much police coverage would be from other departments in the county. He said Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace said the cost for police services from the Sheriff’s Department would be $420,000 plus gasoline. From Jamestown, he was told the costs would be around $550,000. The supervisor said both police heads said they could provide police services, however, it would not be similar to what Busti residents have been receiving.

“Joe (Gerace) said that I would not be receiving the same service we are accustomed to,” Robbins said.

Wordelmann added, “All the (Lakewood-Busti) officers live in the area, they know the area. We have a chief right here. What you get is the whole police force, and not just a car.”