Police funding issue for town, villages
An audit by the State Comptroller’s Office has determined that the town of Montgomery under-collected approximately $2 million from taxpayers in the villages of Maybrook and Montgomery for police services over the last three years.
According to the comptroller’s calculations, in 2012 Maybrook residents should have paid an additional $246,435 and Montgomery residents should have paid an additional $442,722.
With lean budgets already, the audit places additional stress on the two villages to find a solution. One solution might be to actually add additional police officers to the village police departments. Under Town Law, if the village police departments have four full-time police officers, they are exempt from the assessment altogether.
In the town of Montgomery, which contains the villages of Walden, Maybrook and Montgomery, only Walden has more than four full-time officers and has been exempted. In the past, the town charged Maybrook and Montgomery for town police services based on the estimated number of hours the town police covered calls from the two villages, taking into consideration that both had their own police departments and the Village of Montgomery’s police department is a 24/7 operation.
“The town felt that the formula that was worked out was to the benefit of all the residents of these three municipalities,” Montgomery Town Supervisor Mike Hayes stated in a letter to the comptroller.
The comptroller noted that the town thought it was a “fair and equitable way to distribute the costs of providing police services,” but said Town Law does not permit it and the town has to remedy the situation.
The village of Maybrook currently has three full-time police officers and nine part-time officers with a total budget of about $318,000. On average, a taxpayer in the village paid $18 toward the town police department, but should have paid $256.
“Maybrook has many taxpayers who are seniors and those who live on fixed incomes. This would be a significant increase to all taxpayers,” said Maybrook Mayor Dennis K. Leahy.
When the report came out, Leahy said it sent up red flags for him and he immediately contacted the town supervisor, concerned that the assessment would change on Jan. 1, 2013, before the village could make any decisions.
Town Supervisor Mike Hayes has assured the mayors of both villages that the town won’t change the numbers until their 2014 budget, which they will begin work on this fall.
“That wouldn’t [have been] fair to the village residents,” said Hayes on Tuesday, noting that the villages are partway through their 2012-2013 budget and beginning to work on their next budget to be passed this spring.
The village of Maybrook needs to add only one full-time officer to avoid the assessment. Leahy said he has been working toward the goal of four full-time police officers for the last four years and believes that it is within reach.
He estimated that the cost of a full-time police officer would be about $38,000, plus benefits, whereas the town could assess far more as the comptroller’s calculations state Maybrook taxpayers should have paid almost $265,000 in 2012.
“[To] avoid this assessment, the village of Maybrook will be budgeting for a full-time police officer position for the 2013-2014 village of Maybrook budget,” said Leahy.
VILLAGE OF MONTGOMERY
The situation in the village of Montgomery is a shade more dire with a 24/7 police force staffed by 26 part-timers and no full-time police officers. As it stands, if the Village Board takes no action, the village will face an astronomical increase. According to the comptroller, the village should be paying more than 36 times its current contribution of $11,992.
On average, a village of Montgomery taxpayer paid $9 toward the funding of the town police, but should have paid approximately $334.
“We’re going to hire four full-timers, unless we can get an exemption,” said Village of Montgomery Mayor L. Stephen Brescia on Tuesday.
Brescia explained that the village is in a situation where both of the options they have been given—inaction or hiring four full-timers—will result in a significant increase in taxes for village residents without getting more effective police protection.
Brescia said they are sending a letter to Senator Bill Larkin asking that he pursue a “Home Rule” legislation that would provide the village with an exemption.
“We’re hopeful,” said Brescia.
If they are not successful however, the mayor said the Village Board plans to hire four full-time police officers. Such a move would place a major strain on the village budget and Brescia said they would have to look at cuts.
He estimated that each officer would cost the village between $50,000 and $70,000 including benefits, depending on the contract and whether the officer needed a single or family health coverage plan. The village’s police budget is currently over $918,000.
If the village moves forward with that option, Brescia said they will have to cut hours or personnel and the elimination of part-time police officer positions is a “definite possibility.”
TOWN OF MONTGOMERY
According to the Comptroller’s Office, the town taxpayers that reside outside the villages paid more than was required, paying on average $174 more than they should have.
Town Supervisor Mike Hayes said the audit was triggered by a complaint from a town resident (outside the villages) who felt that the villages were getting too sweet a deal. Ironically, if the villages move forward with their plans, the village taxpayers’ contributions will shrink to zero and leave town taxpayers with the entire cost.
The Town Board may then be looking at a little trimming of its own in the fall to make up the difference—a loss of revenue of approximately $30,306.
With the audit, the Comptroller’s Office required a written corrective action plan within 90 days. Hayes said the comptroller understands they will not be able to resolve the issue in 90 days as it depended on the decisions of the two villages and their budgets, but are taking the necessary steps.
“They control their own destiny,” Hayes said of the villages, explaining that the town could not tell them how to resolve the issue, but only wait to see which option they choose.
Hayes said other questions are arising as if a village police department has four full-time officers and is exempt-but is not a 24/7 operation-then the village will essentially be receiving free police services from the town.
Hayes said town residents will likely question what services the town will provide as they will be footing the bill for the village residents.
“It’s one of those bridges that will have to be crossed when and if they hire four full-time officers,” said Hayes.
By Rachel Coleman