B U F F A L O N E W S
Sheriff takes issue with squeeze on patrols
By MATTHEW SPINA
News Staff Reporter
Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan is against charging towns extra for protection.
Erie County Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan calls an idea to squeeze money out of smaller towns for road patrols "simply unfair," and a couple of County Legislature Republicans say they will fight it.
During a news conference Tuesday, Gallivan took issue with County Executive Joel A. Giambra's idea of charging extra to towns who get most of their police protection from the Sheriff's Department.
He provided charts showing that it's not the smaller towns consuming most of the Sheriff's Department road patrol and jail services, it's the City of Buffalo, at about 60.5 percent, with Cheektowaga a distant second at 6.5 percent and then Amherst at 5.4 percent.
Those towns that do not have police forces each consume less than 2 percent of patrol and jail resources, Gallivan's charts showed.
The picture changes when looking at complaint calls fielded by deputies. While Buffalo still leads, with almost 26 percent, Clarence generates nearly 11 percent, Grand Island 9.2 percent and Alden 8.3 percent - all towns without their own police departments. Large towns with police forces - Amherst, for example - fall far down the list.
Still, Gallivan said, the Giambra administration's stance would hurt all residents. It is up to the sheriff to allocate resources, he said, and even if $8 million is lost and 99 deputies are laid off, the remaining workers would still respond to calls in the county's farthest reaches.
"Everybody loses with cuts like this," Gallivan said.
Also on Tuesday, a rebuke came from Legislator Denise E. Marshall, R-Lancaster, who parted company with Giambra, also a Republican. She branded the idea of charging extra to towns that get most of their police protection from the Sheriff's Department "shortsighted, irresponsible and wholly inappropriate."
"It is the height of hypocrisy from an administration which preaches regionalism and has called for the merger of city and county police forces," said Marshall, who represents six of the 16 towns targeted: Alden, Elma, Holland, Marilla, Sardinia and Wales.
A County Legislature vote on the matter would not necessarily follow party lines; some Republican districts include larger towns that have police forces and have less to lose with Giambra's idea, which could be written into the budget he proposes to lawmakers Nov. 10.
Republican Minority Leader Michael H. Ranzenhofer represents the largest town without its own police force, Clarence. With urban Democrats controlling the Legislature, Ranzenhofer said he is not sure whether road patrol money for those towns would be restored if Giambra withdrew it.
"The taxpayers in those towns pay county taxes, and this is one of the services they get for that," he said, reasoning that Giambra could find savings by shedding some county workers, with the pain spread evenly among departments.
Giambra's budget director late Friday sent letters to the 16 towns without their own police forces, saying the county "may not be able" to finance their sheriff's road patrols without compensation.
Budget Director Joseph Passafiume later said that it is unfair that larger towns such as Amherst, Cheektowaga, Hamburg, Lancaster and Tonawanda staff their own police forces and provide tax money to support the Sheriff's Department, too.
A Buffalo News investigation in 1996 found huge swings in the amount paid per person for police protection, largely because some towns go without their own officers. A person in Clarence, for example, paid nothing extra, but every man, woman and child in Orchard Park paid an average of $72.
While in 1996 the service to those 16 towns cost about $7 million, today it costs more than $8 million, says Passafiume, who figures that 99 deputies could be laid off if costs are not shared.
His letter followed the template sent to the county's unions and cultural and human services agencies threatening deep cuts because the county faces a $130 million deficit in 2005.
Those letters also mention the county's difficulty in financing the expensive Medicaid program and the refusal by key state lawmakers to back Giambra's request for another penny on the sales tax to generate $125 million and rescue Erie County from its money troubles.
Giambra has asked anyone within earshot to urge state lawmakers from Western New York to reform the Medicaid system or support the sales tax increase. So a number of town officials, who had to have town budgets in place by Sept. 30, saw the letter as a Giambra tactic to direct anger at Albany.
"This is certainly going to have some kind of impact," said Clarence Supervisor Kathleen E. Hallock.
Gallivan, however, did not want to wade into that dispute during his news conference.
"Whatever issue exists between the county executive and the legislators in this state is between them," he said, asking taxpayers to persuade Giambra and county lawmakers to protect the road patrol money.