What Do You Want To Share?

Chautauqua County legislators say they want shared services.

Their actions regarding a contract between Silver Creek and the county Sheriff’s Department say otherwise.

Silver Creek has been having trouble keeping enough officers in uniform to provide 24 hour, 7 day a week coverage in the 2,700 person village. Police officers have been leaving the department so quickly Tim Roche, Silver Creek police chief, can’t get people trained quickly enough. For one stretch of April, a part-time officer took a vacation from his full-time job and worked seven days of 12-hour shifts to make sure an officer was on duty in the village. An even bigger gap was looming at the end of May, leaving Roche and Nick Piccolo, Silver Creek mayor, scrambling to provide village residents police protection. Roche and Piccolo could have simply disbanded the village police force and let coverage fall on the New York State Police and the Sheriff’s Department, but instead chose to negotiate an enhanced police coverage contract with the Sheriff’s Department.

That agreement is similar to agreements already in place between the Sheriff’s Department and Ripley, Brocton, Bemus Point and North Harmony. Silver Creek, which paid $600,000 a year for its police department, would pay roughly $274,000 for the rest of 2013 and $377,652 in 2014. Silver Creek officials knew they wouldn’t receive the same coverage, but it was enough coverage for them and could be provided at a cost savings. Because the Silver Creek Police Department couldn’t provide adequate coverage after the end of May, Sheriff Joe Gerace agreed to provide coverage starting June 1.

During their meeting Wednesday, legislators removed the second year of the contract after expressing a myriad of concerns ranging from not having approved the contract before Sheriff’s deputies began patrolling Silver Creek to the county not making enough money off the arrangement. Legislator William Coughlin, D-Fredonia, actually told Piccolo during a Public Safety Committee meeting on June 19 that the county should be charging the village more. Coughlin then criticized the agreement taking effect June 1 during Wednesday’s legislature meeting. The legislature then cut the second year from the agreement and approved a contract for only 2013.

Sheriff Joe Gerace is correct; the Sheriff’s Department should charge only what it actually costs the department to provide services. It shouldn’t be looking to fleece taxpayers simply to improve the department’s bottom line. And, the legislature must be willing to bend a little when there are extenuating circumstances as they were in Silver Creek.

The pettiness and intransigence shown by the legislature are bad signs for any sort of consolidation between the Jamestown Police Department and Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department. A study over ways the two departments can consolidate has been finished since November, with a steering committee that includes city and county officials recommending creation of a city division within the Sheriff’s Office to ensure a sustained level of service within Jamestown. Once that step is taken, the committee recommends a phased consolidation of the two departments.

It’s an interesting idea – one that might as well be dead on arrival if the legislature treats that proposal as it has treated Silver Creek’s enhanced policing contract.