There was a general agreement that the village is facing dissolution at some point in the not too distant future. Richard Winters, mayor of the Village of Liberty, said, because Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for the consolidation of municipalities, and because the sour economy has pushed the village to the brink of insolvency, it seems that ultimately the village may cease to exist.
A couple of the board members in attendance agreed, and none voiced an opposing view. If true, then what will become of the village police force?
That was the question discussed at a meeting of the Town of Liberty board and the Village of Liberty trustees at a joint meeting at the Liberty Senior Center on May 12. Village trustee Joan Stoddard has been pushing for the town to join with the village and transform the police department into one that would serve the entire town, which includes hamlets such as Swan Lake and White Sulphur Springs.
The nineteen member force has a budget of nearly $2 million and is by far the most expensive item in the village budget.
Earl Bertsch, the director of finance of the town, said that if the cost of the police department were shifted from the village to the entire town, taxes for town residents would rise 60%, while taxes for village residents would decrease 50%. But that does not include the cost of the additional police officers and equipment that would need to be purchase to provide coverage for the town.
Not surprisingly, the town board members said that all of the constituents they had discussed the matter with said they did not want the police department to go town-wide, and that town had adequate police protection which is currently provided by the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State. Council member Maurice Gerry said the two organizations had provided “excellent” coverage over the years.
Village trustee Joan Stoddard, on the other hand, said that at a previous meeting regarding the police department, many town residents turned out and said they would be willing to pay more taxes to ensure the survival of the village police force.
If the village were to be dissolved, one option for the town would be to form a police district, which would mean that people who live in the village would continue to pay for the police coverage. Stoddard said the drawback with that option would be that the payments for the police department would no longer be deductable from federal income taxes. Winters said village tax payers would reject such an option.
Town council member Lynn Killian wondered what the sheriff’s office and state police would do of there were no longer a village police force. Representatives from both organizations said they would like to have the issues raised in a letter which their superiors could respond to.
It has been suggested in the past that the sheriff’s office might be able to provide protection for a lower cost because sheriff’s deputies make significantly less money than village police officers, by one account $25,000 less per year.
The two boards agreed to explore the issue further and to hold a public hearing at an unspecified date to get input from both town and village residents.