A letter sent to Cooperstown residents last week by Cooperstown Mayor Joe Booan made clear his stance on dissolving the village police department.
After months of private meetings with Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin and an unannounced closed-door session with the Otsego County Public Safety Committee, Booan took his campaign to village residents with a tax-supported mass mailing. The mayor has not yet discussed the proposal with trustees during a meeting.
In his letter, the mayor said the village budget calls for spending in excess of $500,000 on the police department. By contracting with the sheriff's department for law enforcement services, the village could reduce costs by $170,000, Booan's letter said.
Shortly before the mailing went out, Booan appeared before the county's Public Safety Committee to make his case for dissolving the village department and contracting with the county for police coverage.
Devlin told the committee that Booan had reached out to him to speak about shared services.
Devlin said his office would require the equivalent of an additional 4½ deputies to provide the same coverage the village department provides.
"Public safety is a top priority for me," Booan told the committee. "I would be negligent in my role as mayor if I didn't look at all options."
Booan said there would be no cost to the county and that taxes should not go up.
"The village will pay the difference between what is currently provided (by the sheriff) and 24/7 coverage," Booan said.
Booan will have to get the blessing of the county board of representatives and the village board of trustees before dissolution can occur. The village board's decision will be subject to permissive referendum.
Village attorney Martin Tillapaugh, who has been through a few police dissolution attempts in his career as a municipal attorney, said Tuesday the issue "almost certainly will" be decided by residents.
Tillapaugh said that once a board votes to dissolve a police department, residents have 30 days to file a petition asking for a referendum on the question.
The petition, he said, must bear a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of the voters in the last election. He said he believes it would require 35 to 40 signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
A vote would be held within 45 to 60 days of the filing of the petition. If residents say no, the process stops. If they say yes, the dissolution moves forward.
Booan told the committee he would like a decision as soon as possible because he wants to bring it to the board of trustees at the end of the month.
"We need to allow residents time to weigh in," he said.
However, Public Safety Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Relic said he was unsure if a decision could be made as quickly as Booan would like.
"24/7 may be difficult to achieve in real time," Relic said. "There are a variety of questions to be answered."
Committee member Steven Fournier said he wanted to hear the opinion of police Chief Diana Nicols.
Nicols said she would be glad to offer her opinion because it would be the first time she was asked to be part of the process.
"I'm concerned we're not approaching this for the right reasons. I'd like to see us do it correctly," she said. "If village residents are clamoring for a cut in services, why not cut our budget?