Sep 20, 2012 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Hundreds of East Syracuse residents filed into the St. Matthews School gym tonight to learn about the village’s proposal to abolish the police department and have the DeWitt Police Department take over police services.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in this room who wants to be here for this reason, myself included,” Mayor Danny Liedka told the packed gymnasium. “However, given the economic climate, it’s affecting everybody — it’s landed in East Syracuse. So we’re here tonight to talk about proposals. No decisions are being made tonight.”
The decision will be made on Oct. 16 by the residents of East Syracuse during a village-wide referendum, assuming the village board votes to go ahead with the proposal following a second public hearing at 6 p.m. Oct. 1.
DeWitt Town Supervisor Ed Michalenko reminded attendees that the village lies within DeWitt’s borders, “and the village residents are town of DeWitt residents.”
“The town of DeWitt would provide police coverage to the village of East Syracuse no different than any other part or portion of DeWitt,” he said, adding that the town has no position on the proposal.
Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci followed, and told residents that a merger with the town would result in a yearly savings of $249 for a property assessed at $100,000.
Under a shared-services contract between the village and the town, the village would pay $400,000 a year to the town, which would in turn bring on the village’s six full-time police officers, Antonacci said.
DeWitt Police Chief Gene Conway said if a merger were to take place, his department would add a patrol post encompassing East Syracuse that would be staffed by those officers brought on from the village department.
There would be a minimum of one officer patrolling East Syracuse at all times, he said. The village is currently patrolled by two police officers.
“Bordering patrols would also become involved,” the police chief said.
Conway said the town, which is staffed with 36 full-time police officers, now has a minimum of five officers on duty from 7 to 11 p.m., and at least four on patrol from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The maximum number of DeWitt police officers patrolling the town at any given time is seven to eight.
“Those times that we would have seven or eight, or potentially now even nine, officers, then it’s very likely that the second officer would be in the village,” he said.
Mayor Liedka next made a plea to the voters to support the proposal in front of them.
“There’s times when we have to make changes for our residents to make something better, there’s a lot of times when we have to make changes to save them money. Tonight’s a unique opportunity— we can accomplish both,” he said.
The mayor said pension costs have doubled in the last four years and health insurance costs have increased an average of 12 percent over the last five years
“These are staggering numbers,” he said. “They’re numbers that a small village of 3,000 people, we just can’t continue to operate this way.”
In response to those residents who have said they’re willing to pay more in taxes to save the police department, he said: “The bottom line is, we can’t do it.” He cited the state’s property tax cap, which prevents municipalities from raising the tax levy more than 2 percent.
“Two percent generates fifty-thousand dollars,” he said. “We need hundreds [of thousands], if not millions, of dollars to continue moving forward.
“We’ve just heard a great proposal on how we can gain great service. Our officers provide great service. This is not about performance — they do a great job.”
Liedka said that when the village board began talking with DeWitt about this proposal, it was “simply about police protection.”
“Here we are tonight, they’re going to add a post and our officers will be on that post,” he said. “So the children who know the officers, you’re still going to have your officers. But you’re going to have thirty-six other ones right there with them.”
“We need more police protection in this village, not less,” he added. “This is the only way we’re going to get it.”
A good portion of the village’s 3,000 residents then got to hear their neighbors argue in favor of or against abolishing the police department, which was established in 1885.
Pat Bacon, a member of the East Syracuse Neighborhood Watch, started things off by reiterating that the village is patrolled by two cop cars.
“You’re only mentioning one car,” she said. “We won’t have two cars all the time?”
Chief Conway responded: “There will always be one car in the village of East Syracuse and a second car, depending on the shift, depending on the number of officers, could potentially be in the village … many of the calls that we are dispatched to require two calls; for instance, a domestic call.”
Pat Steves, of East Syracuse, asked if saving $250 a year on taxes was worth sacrificing the safety of the village’s children.
“In my opinion it’s not,” he said to applause. “I’ve had to call 9-1-1 a couple times, and by the time I get off the phone the East Syracuse cops are already at my front door. Is DeWitt going to be able to do that?”
He added: “Is DeWitt going to remember us and treat us like family like the cops in East Syracuse do?”
Bernie Ment was the first village resident to argue in favor of the proposal.
“We need to stop being emotional about this decision and consider this logically,” he said.
Ment said Liedka and the village board deserve to be commended for their efforts to avert several tax increases for a village that “already pays the highest per capita tax rate in all of Onondaga County.”
“But even with those high tax rates, and the services provided by this village, we’re still not a Skaneateles, or Marcellus, or even a Liverpool,” he said. “In fact, this village is turning into a poor reflection of the inner city.”
He cited the village’s high number of rental properties, which make up around 60 percent of all village properties, as a cause for concern.
“The renters that come and go in the night more than likely barely get noticed unless they break the law,” he said. “As long as the taxes remain high in the village, though, this trend will never reverse.”
Syracuse resident Mike Lemm started his remarks by saying he’d been in law enforcement since 1977. He said he has served with the Syracuse, East Syracuse and Solvay police departments, and now works as a part-time officer in Liverpool.
“Consolidation does not work,” he said to applause.
He said that if you take the savings proposed by Antonacci, divide it by 365 days in a year and divide that by 24 hours in a day, “you’re talking about pennies — pennies to keep your police department.”
“You want to keep your police department?” he asked. “There’s no cost too much to keep it.”
Ned Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.