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November 9, 2012

Sheriff: Cuts would jeopardize public safety

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Citing statistics showing that crime reports are on the rise, Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. on Thursday urged the county Board of Representatives to shelve plans to cut two road patrol deputies from his agency.

“Any reduction in our police services will have unforeseen consequences for years to come,” Devlin told a panel of lawmakers seeking to make $1.9 million in budget cuts in order to come up with a balanced spending plan for 2013.

Devlin presented county lawmakers with a letter from State Police Maj. Kevin G. Molinari, commander of Troop C, informing them that his squad of troopers “cannot compensate for any reduction in the full-time public service provided to county residents by the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department road patrols.”

“The New York State Police does not have the resources to adequately cover areas where local agency patrols are reduced,” Molinari wrote in a one-page letter dated Nov. 2.

Troop C is responsible for covering a total of seven counties — including Otsego, Delaware and Chenango. Molinari said his troopers “are often called upon to police special events and natural disasters in other parts of the state,” and 24 of them are currently on deployment to Long Island, where they are helping in communities battered by Hurricane Sandy.

Devlin, speaking directly to board members, said he simply cannot afford to lay off any of his personnel.

In the past five years, he said, drug investigations have climbed 25 percent, while there has been a 45 percent jump in calls from citizens seeking police service. In addition, he said, the inmate population at the Otsego County Correctional Facility has increased 35 percent in that same period, while domestic violence calls are up by 40 percent.

The sheriff said if he’s forced to shed any of his deputies — he has a total of 16, including investigators — it could slow response times to emergencies and calls for help from crime victims.

“Would you want your family member to wait in excess of 20 minutes for help to arrive?” he asked.

Board members suggested they will retreat from pressing for layoffs in the sheriff’s department after Devlin assured them he will hold off on making a planned $35,000 vehicle purchase for the agency while deriving $60,000 in new revenue for boarding inmates from Herkimer County. However, no formal action was taken by the board’s administration committee.

The panel did agree to recommend eliminating one position from the Office for the Aging — the coordinator of health insurance information services. The agency’s director, Frances Wright, said she was reluctant to suggest any personnel cuts but when pressed by county lawmakers that post was the only one that she suggested for elimination.

Reps. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Burlington, and Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, opposed that cut.

The panel also decided to recommend cutting one position each from the building services and health departments. The highway department is also being reduced by two positions, but those cuts are being made through attrition by leaving a welder and heavy equipment operator jobs unfilled after workers in those spots retire.

A final budget is scheduled to be put into place by early December.

County Treasurer Dan Crowell said while county lawmakers are continuing to consider boosting the sales tax to 8.25 percent from the current 8 percent, it is not clear yet whether that idea has sufficient support to be enacted.

Crowell also said if the board does opt to raise the sales tax, it could not be done in time to influence the spending plan now being assembled.