B U F F A L O   N E W S

County asks towns to pay for police protection

Some of 99 deputies otherwise may lose jobs

News Staff Reporter
Sixteen towns that depend on Erie County sheriff's deputies for police protection have been warned they will have to start paying more for the service or lose it.

Facing a huge budget gap next year, the county can no longer afford to be the main provider of police service for the 16 towns without receiving reimbursement, an aide to County Executive Joel A. Giambra said Saturday.

"These are the 16 towns in the county that don't have their own police departments. For these communities, providing police patrol services costs the county $8.6 million a year. That's salaries, fringe benefits, cars and equipment for 99 deputies," Budget Director Joseph Passafiume said.

"I've sent letters and faxes to all the supervisors," he said. "They're either going to have to reimburse the county, or we're going to have to discontinue these services on Jan. 1."

Some or all of the 99 patrol deputies will be laid off if the towns don't come up with the reimbursements, he said.

The county's warning constitutes a budget bombshell for towns that rely on the Sheriff's Department to patrol roads and handle emergencies.

The two most populated towns affected are Clarence and Grand Island. The others are Alden, Aurora, Boston, Brant, Colden, Collins, Concord, Elma, Holland, Marilla, Newstead, North Collins, Sardinia and Wales.

The county's ultimatum surprised Grand Island Supervisor Peter A. McMahon, who was especially unhappy to learn about it Saturday evening from a reporter for The Buffalo News. Passafiume said the letters and faxes to the supervisors had gone out Friday.

"Nobody from the county has discussed this with me, and I've talked to the sheriff's office twice in the past week," McMahon said. "I'm surprised that the county waited so long to announce this, and that they didn't pick up a telephone and tell me about it."

McMahon said town supervisors throughout the state were required by law to complete proposed budgets by Sept. 30. He said he does not know how he and other supervisors will find money for the patrols by Jan. 1.

McMahon said Grand Island and many of the other affected towns also receive services from the State Police, so asking the state for more police help is one option. He also plans to ask county legislators to try to keep funding available for the deputies who patrol Grand Island.

If those efforts fail, McMahon said, his town and others will have to reimburse the county or start their own police forces.

Providing the patrols, without reimbursement, is a luxury county taxpayers cannot afford, Passafiume said. Taxpayers in such towns as Amherst, Tonawanda, Hamburg, Lancaster and Cheektowaga, who pay for their own police departments, also pay taxes to fund the Sheriff's Department, which he described as unfair.

"This is an issue that has been discussed for years. It's an issue of equity, not just finances," he said.

Giambra's office has said the county faces a projected $130 million deficit next year.

Passafiume blamed the county's move on the State Legislature's failure enact Medicaid reforms or support the county's request for a sales tax increase.