B U F F A L O   N E W S


Towns upset by Giambra warning on patrols
News Staff Reporters
Erie County's threat to halt police services for about 137,200 residents in rural towns from Clarence to Wales if they don't pay more for it has upset officials there - with some saying the move is really part of County Executive Joel A. Giambra's campaign to get Albany to approve a higher county sales tax.

"This might get people's attention," said Clarence Supervisor Kathleen E. Hallock, whose town and 15 others depend on the county Sheriff's Department for police protection.

"Now will people get mad enough to storm the State Legislature? I don't know. But this is certainly going to have some kind of impact."

In Elma, Supervisor Michael P. Nolan agreed with Hallock and had little sympathy for the county's fiscal situation.

The county "needs to face reality and really cut where they need to cut," Nolan said. "In this day and age of post-9/11, the last thing you (should) do is take away police services."

Concord Supervisor Mark L. Steffan called the move "legalized extortion."

"We were told to have our tentative budgets in place on Sept. 30, so they wait until after Sept. 30 to hit us with this," Steffan said. "That's a hell of a way to do business."

Giambra could not be reached to comment.

Facing a huge budget gap, the county notified the 16 towns late Friday and early Saturday that it can no longer afford to be the main provider of police services for them without reimbursement.

In a letter to the town supervisors, County Budget Director Joseph Passafiume said that unless they reimburse the county for Sheriff's Department services, the county will halt services Jan. 1.

In addition to Clarence, Concord and Elma, the towns of Alden, Aurora, Boston, Brant, Colden, Collins, Elma, Grand island, Holland, Marilla, Newstead, North Collins, Sardinia and Wales also were given the county ultimatum.

According to Passafiume, providing police patrol services for the towns costs the county $8.6 million a year. If they refuse to reimburse the county for those services, he said, the county will be forced to lay off 99 deputies.

The warning comes at a time when Giambra is lobbying Albany hard to raise the sales tax to 9.25 cents on the dollar as a way to close most of a $130 million deficit forecast for 2005.

Giambra argues that the extra penny also will be paid by tourists and generate $125 million more revenue per year. However, he needs the State Legislature's approval, and so far the reception has been cold, largely because he refuses to share the money with Buffalo and other local governments and school districts.

But unless he gets the extra sales tax, Giambra says, he will be forced to increase county taxes significantly.

The town supervisors argued that the county taxes they already pay take care of the cost of Sheriff's Department services.

"People in Elma already pay (for sheriff's services)," Nolan said. "I mean, how much crime is there in Elma?"

Nolan said Elma has long provided a substation for deputies covering the town and nearby communities. In fact, the new Town Hall has detective and patrol rooms, a service desk for the public, and showers and lockers for the 15 deputies assigned there.

"We've always had a tremendous relationship with the Sheriff's Department," Nolan said. "But if they are going to charge us, we'll have to charge them in the future (for the accommodations)."

Aurora Supervisor Terence M. Yarnall said he would cope in a different way. The East Aurora police force is the town's primary source of protection, and sheriff's deputies now just provide backup. So if the county demands more money, Yarnall said, the town will switch to the State Police for backup.

"I just want to know where our county tax dollars are going if we can't rely on the Sheriff's Department," Yarnall said.

Colden Supervisor Marilynn J. Calhoun also was upset by the sudden development.

"Why should the people of the small rural areas that have depended on the sheriff's patrols for years . . . now all of sudden have to pay for something that's been a service?" she said. "We've got to be sensitive to the people in the rural towns."

The supervisors were expected to meet on the issue within the next two days and sit down with county officials later in the week.