On April 20, the union that represents the Village of Liberty police department reached an agreement with village officials on concessions that will avert the layoff of three officers. The concessions included giving up 3% raises, which settles the matter, for now.
Still, the police department is the biggest item in the village’s budget, running about $2 million a year. Some officials and residents have decided that the best way to ensure the future viability of the 19-member department is to have it to expand to provide coverage not only to the Village of Liberty, but also to the surrounding Town of Liberty.
Village trustee Joan Stoddard went to the town board meeting, also on April 20, to ask the board to join forces and consider paying for an expanded police force, which could only be done through a public referendum. The request was a bit sensitive because in March the village board voted to dissolve the village justice court, and, under state law, the town had no choice but to take it over.
The case with the police department is different. Town councilmember Lynn Killian said, “If the village dissolves its police department, it’s not the town’s responsibility to pick it up.” Police protection for the town is currently provided the Sullivan County Sheriff’s department and the New York State Police.
Town supervisor John Schmidt said the people he talked to weren’t interested in the expansion. Councilmember Thomas Hasbrouck said essentially the same thing. Stoddard said, however, at a recent village meeting, many town residents had expressed support for the department. And she reminded the town lawmakers that 41% of the residents of the Town of Liberty live in the Village of Liberty.
The additional cost to town residents was also discussed. No one had any figures yet, but Stoddard said the cost wouldn’t be excessive.
Killian countered if it becomes a town-wide department it would be on the town’s budget, and it would require more men, and, she said, “The town would have to pick up those pensions.”
Stoddard said the town would receive more tax money from village residents, which would mitigate some of the additional town costs.
She suggested that a couple of representatives from both municipalities, and a couple of people from the community meet to begin to discuss the matter.
Killian said the meeting should include the full boards of both municipalities, as well as representatives from the sheriff’s department, state police and village police to look at all the potential options. If, for instance, the village police were dissolved, police coverage could be picked up by the sheriff’s office using a police district to pay for the additional officers. Killian also said and the meeting should be open to the public; councilmember Maurice Gerry agreed.
The public may not be invited to speak at the meeting, but if the process moves forward there will be public hearings and a public vote. A meeting was set for May 12, with the location to be determined at a later date.