Consolidation could alter Hoosick police coverage
HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- Earlier this week, trustees accepted the resignation of the second in command at the Hoosick Falls Police Department and promoted longtime Officer Harold McClellan to fill the assistant chief post.
McClellan, who also serves on the board of the Hoosick Armory Youth Center & Community Coalition, has helped lead that organization's "police partnership," an initiative to get officers involved and interacting with area youth, and also a court diversion program for teens charged with underage drinking offenses.
But much greater change could lay in store for the department, which is a major element as the village of Hoosick Falls considers dissolution. Fully half of the estimated cost savings from consolidation would come from dissolving the department, which would mean a certain change in policing in the northeastern part of Rensselaer County.
At a public hearing Wednesday to present findings from the village's grant-funded dissolution study, Paul A. Bishop, lead associate from the Center for Governmental Research, acknowledged policing would be a contentious discussion.
"The police department is a big deal," said Bishop. "The law enforcement issue comes to the top ... in most communities we work on."
In CGR's options report, which details mostly the economic impact of a change to village government, the study's authors acknowledge sometimes conflicting opinions and concerns with changes to the police force. While village residents have come to expect the local department, town residents might not support an expanded agency. And while a townwide force would raise tax bills for residents outside the former village, dissolution would mean a loss of jobs for local residents.
A hearing next Thursday is designed to receive public feedback as part of the dissolution study funded through New York State's Local Government Efficiency Grant program.
Currently, the Hoosick Falls police force includes two full-time officers and 13 part-time officers, according to the CGR study. Coverage is typically provided with one or two on-duty officers, who contribute about 260 hours of road patrol on a weekly basis. The Rensselaer County Sheriff's Office or state police provide assistance as needed.
In 2011, the department was dispatched to 2,052 calls for service in the village. The force also responds outside the village to serious concerns, typically several times a month, usually to stabilize a situation until sheriff's deputies or state troopers arrive.
Assuming village dissolution, there is no mechanism under state law to allow a police agency to serve only a portion of a municipality, such as through a "police district," so any local force would fall under the purview of town government.
"The town board would have to vote to create a police force," said Bishop, responding to a query from village Trustee Ric DiDonato on Wednesday. Bishop said he would suggest seeking an advance town board resolution supporting the change, otherwise, "if they vote no, you know option two (with a townwide police force) is not a viable option."
The total cost of village police operations in 2012 was $390,552, which includes personnel costs, benefits and contractual expenses. The cost of a theoretical townwide force would depend on the level of service, and possibly factor added maintenance and wear-and-tear on police cruisers. With approximately half the town's population inside current village boundaries, the most densely populated area of Hoosick, a new force would continue to concentrate in that area, although Bishop noted the town would have ultimate authority over the department -- as the village does now.
With total dissolution including the police force, local municipal tax bills for former village residents were projected to drop $531 on a house with a $100,000 market value, assuming an available incentive tax credit. With the Citizens Empowerment Tax Credit (CETC), even town residents outside the village would see taxes drop -- by about $23. With the CETC credit and a townwide police force, town residents outside the village would pay $69 more on the same valued house.
The alternative to a townwide force would be an inter-municipal agreement with Rensselaer County for additional sheriff's patrols. Bishop said he could not determine how much such an agreement might cost, but if dissolution is sought, he said those costs would be developed further.
The consideration is similar to a 2010 village board decision that eliminated local emergency dispatchers in favor of the countywide 911 system. The village had previously budgeted $160,000 for its local dispatch, but, after deliberation, closed that center and instead signed a five-year agreement with Rensselaer County, at $12,000 a year.
While the move resulted in savings -- the village approved a budget the following year that decreased taxes by 2 percent -- trustees and residents voiced strong concerns about quality of service, and the vote to eliminate dispatch services was split 4-3.
At their meeting Tuesday, trustees accepted a second resignation of a part-time officer, in addition to the former assistant chief, John Sotile, evidencing the difficulty many small-town agencies have staffing their part-time rosters.
In Hoosick Falls, and northward at the Cambridge-Greenwich Police Department, both agencies must routinely find and hire new part-time officers, who later can find better paying, full-time employment with larger area law enforcement agencies.
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