Effective Jan. 1, 2012, the town of Clay will no longer have a contract for enhanced services with the sheriff’s department.
According to Clay Supervisor Damian Ulatowski, there just isn’t room in the town’s $12,166,584 budget for the nearly $1.5 million annual expense.
“With this move, we will join the ranks of most of the towns in the county that receive services at no additional cost,” Ulatowski said. “We are confident the sheriff will continue to provide comparable service to our residents as he is legally obliged to do.”
Ulatowski made the announcement during his tentative budget presentation during the Clay Town Board’s regular meeting Monday Oct. 3. The 2012 tentative budget is down $915,781 from 2011; Ulatowski said those cuts were tough to make.
“Clay has always been fiscally well-run. In the past, we have built a reputation on the delivery of high-quality services with one of the lowest tax rates in the county,” he said. “Unfortunately, in this age of tax caps, constant uncontrolled budgetary increases and loss of our sales tax revenues, we are somewhat a victim of our own frugality. Simply put, there is no money in our budget to pay for mandated increases. In fact, there never was.”
The town has already sent the required six month notice of intent to terminate the contract to the county. Ulatowski said he can still negotiate a new contract.
“The way we’ve presented the budget tonight, it includes us eliminating that contract unless something can be worked out between now and then, and we’ve got until the end of November to figure that out,” he said. “There’s room to modify it.”
Voters in the town of Clay resoundingly approved a referendum on June 23, 2008, voting by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent to get rid of the existing Clay Police Department and merge with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department. Then-Supervisor James Rowley promised savings of around $1.3 million a year, a total of some $17 million over the next 10 years, a number hotly contested by the PBA at the time. The savings, Rowley said in 2008, came from the elimination of duplicated services, including administration and support staff, technology procurement and liability and workers’ compensation insurance. The merger also eliminated the position of commissioner and five part-time police positions.
If approved, the change means that the town of Clay will no longer have enhanced sheriff’s patrols or the sheriff’s substation on Route 31. It will be provided with the same protection provided to other towns in the county without their own police forces.
County Executive Joanie Mahoney said the fact that the town was opting out of the contract did not reflect any kind of failure on the part of the town; on the contrary, it represented a success story.
“This is furthering the consolidation effort,” Mahoney said. “During the merger, Clay took a very careful, cautious approach. Now, they’re seeing it’s not necessary to have Clay residents buy enhanced services to get the protection they need.”
Mahoney pointed out that several towns in the county don’t have their own police departments; Salina, Onondaga, Tully and Fabius all have protection from the sheriff’s department.
“They just pay for it with their county property taxes,” she said. “They’re not spending town dollars unnecessarily. The town of Clay is moving in that direction. It’s a very successful consolidation story.”
Rowley said he, too, felt the termination was part of the natural progression of things.
“It was always an option that the town could step down from the contract or get out entirely,” said Rowley, who is now chief fiscal officer for the county. “
Rowley emphasized that the savings at the time came from the elimination of duplicated services and overhead; however, the recession that came soon after the merger wiped out any extra money in the town’s coffers.
The former supervisor said the elimination of the enhanced services contract would do away with an unnecessary layer of taxation.
“Towns pay taxes at the state level and at the county level for police protection,” Rowley said. “To pay again at the town level doesn’t make sense. It’s each town’s decision, but in my mind, I don’t think paying at those three levels makes sense.”
As for the rest of the town budget, the board will revisit it at its Oct. 17 meeting. If approved as it stands, the tax impact for the average homeowner outside the village is estimated to be $8.14, an increase of 3.4 percent. Village residents would see an increase of $25.74 a year.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.