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Despite projected savings with police proposal, so far few village residents pushing for changes

Photos by Tom Rivers: Paul Bishop, an associate principal with CGR, goes over five possible options for providing law enforcement services in Orleans County. Bishop is speaking at Medina High School during a public meeting on Wednesday.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 November 2017 at 9:04 pm

MEDINA – A law enforcement efficiency study shows significant savings for village residents if the village police departments are dissolved and the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office assumes the additional work.

The report says villages would have similar police presence and response time, and the village tax rates would drop, perhaps as much as $6 to $8 per $1,000 of assessed property in the Village of Albion, for example.

Despite those savings (several hundred dollars a year for a typical homeowner), few village residents are pushing for the change, according to Albion and Medina officials.

Medina Mayor Mike Sidari said village residents have been fairly quiet about the issue. As mayor he wants to see the final report from the consultants and the committee working on the issue before he has an opinion.

Medina hosted the third public meeting on five options for law enforcement services in Orleans County. Last week, CGR held meetings in Albion and Holley. (The next meeting is scheduled 7 p.m. on Nov. 21 at the Lyndonville High School Auditorium.)

About 40 people attended the meeting Wednesday at Medina High School on the law enforcement efficiency study.

The five options range from the status quo to dissolving the village police forces and having a single-entity law enforcement department through the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office.

Eileen Banker, the deputy mayor in Albion, said she hasn’t heard support for dissolving the village police, even with the projected savings.

“People are satisfied with what they have,” she said today. “They feel safe. They know when call they will get a response that is fast.”

Paul Bishop, an associate principal with CGR, has been working on the study since August 2016 with a committee that includes local elected officials and law enforcement officers. The calculations show the Albion village tax rate would fall from about $18 per $1,000 of assessed property to $10 if the village police department was eliminated and the Sheriff’s Office assumed the village patrols. If the Sheriff’s Office maintained the same number of officers as the village departments, the county tax rate would go up about 20 percent or $2 per $1,000 of assessed property, according to the report.

This slide shows that Albion has the highest crime rate in the county. These statistics are a 5-year average.

Sidari and Banker both said the issue hasn’t drawn a lot of comments from the community.

“No one has been coming to our meetings to say if it’s a good or bad idea,” Banker said.

She was referring to the twice a month Village Board meetings. During a meeting last Wednesday about the law enforcement study in Albion, several residents said they would be concerned with a decline in staffing in the villages and a longer response time if the county took over the job.

Bishop said the option for a single law enforcement agency calls for keeping the same amount of officers, 52, in the county. Bishop said those officers wouldn’t be bound by jurisdictional lines and could respond where they are needed. Often that is just outside village lines and busy state roads, he said.

Bishop told about 40 people in Medina on Wednesday that the service and response times might improve under a single law enforcement agency. He also sees opportunities for the officers to specialize, perhaps with drug detection or as juvenile officers.

“Community discussions will drive what happens next,” Bishop said. “Are you happy with the status quo or is there something here to go after?”

This slide breaks down the types of calls for law enforcement officers. The leading call is traffic violations, with public safety assists the second-leading when officers help other agencies.

The law enforcement entities in the county – Orleans County Sheriff’s Office, Albion PD, Medina PD, Holley PD and a part-time officer in Lyndonville – currently cost about $7 million collectively. Bishop said those costs will likely climb to $9 million in the next 10 years in the current model.

In a single entity department – keeping the same number of officers – Bishop said the cost in 10 years would stay close to the current $7 million. There would be reduced personnel costs, even without staff cuts. All of the officers would be on the county contract. The average pay for Sheriff’s deputies with three years’ experience is $50,000, while Medina police officers are paid about $53,000 after 3 years, and Albion officers are paid $63,000 with 3 years of experience, Bishop said.

“Erie and Monroe counties pay substantially higher and that’s where you begin to lose some officers,” he said.

Orleans County recently approved a new contract for deputies that has narrowed the gap with the pay at Albion and Medina, Bishop said.

“The village officers are paid more but it is not a dramatic difference,” Bishop said.

Some of the other options explored by the committee include:

• Expanded Collaboration – The departments remain intact but share resources for evidence storage, central booking and holding, and training and tools.

• Villages Scale Back – Albion and Medina both have two officers on night shifts, and Holley has one officer committed overnights. However, there are few calls between 2 and 8 a.m. on weekdays. One option would be for Albion and Medina to have only one officer working during that low-call volume five days a week. Holley could not have an officer at those hours. There are existing resources to help the villages with the Sheriff’s Office and State Police during the overnight.

That would save Albion and Medina about $100,000 a year. The savings wouldn’t be very dramatic in Holley because that department covers many of its shifts with part-time officers.

• Villages Contract with County – The villages could abolish their departments and contract with the Sheriff’s Office for dedicated patrols and service within the villages. Bishop said residents would notice little change, but would see about $250,000 in savings in the Village of Albion, for example, and about $200,000 in Medina. The savings would primarily come from the reduced pay for the officers who would now be county employees. Some of the administrative tasks would also shift to the county, saving the villages some costs.

Holley and Lyndonville, because they use part-time staff, would actually have to spend more if they contracted with the Sheriff’s Office because deputies are full-time with benefits.

In the contract option, the villages would pay for patrol cars and capital costs. The villages would still bear much of the expense of the operation, but the law enforcement officers would be county employees managed by the sheriff or an appointed leader in the Sheriff’s Office.

Paul Bishop goes over some options for law enforcement services in Orleans County.

If a village moves to eliminate its police department, the issue would need to go for a public vote. Bishop said the police unions will likely fight the changes and elected officials may not embrace them, either.

He asked about 40 people at the Medina if they supported pursuing some of the options, including the single entity agency. It was split in Medina, with about half open to looking at the single entity agency and half saying they liked the way law enforcement services are currently provided.

Bishop said CGR will work to compile feedback at the four meetings in a final report that could be ready in mid-December or by the end of the year.

To see the report on law enforcement in Orleans County, click here.

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