Copake will have referendum this fall on disbanding PD
COPAKE–The fate of the Town’s part-time Police Department lies in the hands of the voters.
In recent years, as town finances have become increasingly more strained and the town has had to borrow money to pay its bills, whether to keep funding town police has been a source of continued contention.
At the July Town Board meeting, as the town struggled with what to do about an unbudgeted $18,000 health insurance expense and an unexpected $100,000 fuel tank replacement cost, resident Gerard Meenagh asked the board to put a referendum on the ballot this November asking the voters whether or not they want to keep their town Police Department.
Arguments against keeping the police force have been that Copake is already covered by officers from both the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the State Police.
Arguments in favor of keeping the police have been that when officers are on duty locally, they can respond to emergencies more quickly and that having a local department may be a deterrent to crime here.
In the 2011 town budget, the total spending for police is $106,980. Salaries for all police officers and the chief account for $72,700 of that total. The department has around seven part-time officers and the shifts and hours they work vary weekly.
At the August 27 Town Board meeting, the board unanimously adopted a resolution to dissolve the Police Department subject to a permissive referendum. The referendum is triggered by the submission of a petition from town voters, with the number of signatures required on the petition set as a percentage of the voters who turned out in the last gubernatorial election.
A petition bearing 101 signatures of registered Copake voters was presented to the board by Harvey Weber during the August meeting. The petition calls for a November 8 referendum to let the citizens of Copake decide the issue once and for all.
Following the meeting, Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea informed the board that the legal procedures call for the adoption of a local law dissolving the Police Department rather than a resolution, so the board has set a public hearing on the proposed local law at 6:20 p.m. September 8, prior to the next regular board meeting, when the local law will likely be adopted.
The board expects to conduct one or more information meetings to provide facts about Police Department services, a cost/benefit analysis and crime rate statistics so voters can make an informed decision. Meeting dates and times will be announced.
With regard to other money matters:
*The board decided to advertise for three new sets of bids in connection with the gasoline and diesel tanks that need to be replaced at the highway garage. They will seek bids for the replacement of both tanks and pumps; just a diesel tank and pump; and the cost to lease the all the tanks and pumps from a company which will do the installation and allow the town to spread the cost over several years. The board already received bids for the replacement of both tanks and related equipment, but decided not to accept any of them. Highway Superintendent Bill Gregory said the low bid was $83,000 and the high bid was $103,000. The new round of bids are due by September 14 and will awarded at a special meeting
*The town’s insurance agent, Kirk Kneller, came to the August meeting to explain how the $18,000 shortfall in the town’s health insurance budget line happened. Apparently, there was a miscommunication between the agent and Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley, who thought he was receiving a quote for the town’s total health insurance cost, when Mr. Kneller was providing a quote for health insurance excluding dental insurance. There was also an added expense incurred because a retired employee was not switched over to a Medicare plan from the standard plan, which would amount to about a $4,000 savings to the town and save the retiree some money too.
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