By NICOLE GUGINO
OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
The police department has been the focus of many discussions in the village of Silver Creek recently. From hiring practices to use of vehicles, the village board has been trying to address issues in the department.
OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino
One of the Silver Creek Police vehicles is pictured outside police headquarters.
With a debate stirring of the cost to the taxpayers versus the security of a village police department and an upcoming election, the OBSERVER asked officials for their take on the issue.
COST VS. CALLS
According to Silver Creek Police Chief Timothy Roche, the department responded to 14,000 calls last year. For much of the year the department employed five full-time officers.
Roche explained this number includes everything from house checks to vehicle stops, interviews and reports of street lights out to serious crimes and accidents. He also said this number does not include multiple calls for individual incidents.
According to Village Treasurer Janet St. George, the police budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year was $405,332. This number only includes personnel and contractual costs but does not include the costs for health insurance, car insurance and retirement.
She said the bill for retirement in the department was $74,576. Insurance is billed to the village cumulatively for all employees.
St. George said the 2013-2014 budget has not yet been determined and will not have to be approved by the board until May 1 at the latest.
Trustee Thomas Harmon has been called as one of the police department's biggest critics. However, he believes he gets that reputation because he is willing to ask the tough questions.
"I am the liaison to the department and I understand that most of the comments come through me but a lot of the things that I look into are questions that need to be asked, things no one has asked before," he said.
He used a recent example of an all-wheel drive vehicle the village purchased for around $26,000 for the officers' safety.
Harmon disputed the purchase of an SUV for the department but after sitting down with Roche found a viable compromise in an all-wheel drive car on state bid. Recently, board members were not pleased to hear the vehicle is being used exclusively by Roche.
"It bothers me because we spent $26,000 on this vehicle for his officers' safety on patrol and it has never seen patrol. I'm the one to call (Roche) out on it because I am the one who asks the questions, 'Why are we buying this when we could be buying that?' 'Can we save the money over here or can we save the money over here?' As an elected official I am going to ask those questions," he said.
He added for the benefits of the department to outweigh the costs for the village there would have to be changes.
"What those guys receive through benefits packages and salary, it is very difficult at this time ... to justify a chief and five full-time officers for a village where we've lost I think another 8 percent of our population in the last two years or so. We keep getting smaller in the village. We need to as a board and as elected officials look at every alternative to try to save the taxpayers' money or we are not doing our job," he said.
Trustee Nick Piccolo, who is running uncontested for mayor, agreed with Harmon saying the village board must look into what is best for the taxpayers. He said although he enjoys having the 24/7 coverage of the village police department, the board needs to begin looking at the future costs of the department.
"What you have to do is project two or three years beyond (next year's) budget because when you factor in the legacy costs, the insurance costs and if there is a wage increase, what factor does that have on the next year's budget and the year after that's budget?
"The village or the town or any municipality is in business to furnish services for the taxpayers in order for them to get their money's worth for their taxes. We are one of the highest taxed in the area, our water rates are higher than any other place and how much can you stand there and keep adding to the taxpayers when some of them feel they are not getting their money's worth for their tax dollars? What it amounts to is it's a security blanket that is a nice thing to have but is it worth the dollars that are being spent to have that luxury? That's a question everyone has to ask themselves as taxpayers," he said.
When asked about the future of police coverage in the village, Piccolo said the board is weighing all its options and will try to do what is best for taxpayers.
"The difference between a business and a municipality is we make nothing to generate income. ... The village's operation comes from the tax base. ... Can you afford to keep paying out without receiving anything coming in? Personally, I feel comfortable with the police department but with the position I am going to be in after the election. It has to be a decision that is going to benefit not just one or two people or just a group of people but all the taxpayers in the village.
"Those taxpayers, no matter what anyone wants to think, they are my boss and they are every employee in this village's boss. It comes down to what do they want? Do they want to continue paying higher taxes or do they want to look at another avenue that could reduce their tax cost?" he asked.
"We are looking into a lot of other options but if they are not going to benefit the taxpayers then we don't need to look any further," Piccolo added.
Trustee Ben Peters said he has heard arguments for and against the police department but in representing residents in the village he just wants to do what is best for taxpayers.
Trustee Amy Romanik will not be running for re-election but said she believes the village deserves 24/7 coverage and added if there is to be a change in police coverage it should be put to a public referendum vote.
Mayor Kurt Lindstrom, who's term is up in March, said he would not answer questions at this time.
"I feel it is appropriate for the board not to opinionate but to look at all options with a financial commitment for the taxpayers behalf. With the Petri closing and the 2 percent cap it is prudent to work toward intelligent decisions over speaking to police issues wildly. It makes more sense to make weighted considerate decisions in an appropriate fashion," he said in an email.
In the village election slated for March 19, Harmon will be running for re-election and Piccolo is running uncontested for mayor. There will also be some new candidates running for the two positions of trustee including Warren Kelly (Rep.) as well as Anthony Pearl (Dem.) and Deanna Coggins (Dem.).
In an interview, Kelly said although he feels it is premature for him to give an opinion, he feels the village should investigate its options to see what is most economical for the taxpayers.
"My goal is not to raise taxes and to lower them wherever we can. If we have to scrutinize every department to do so, that is what the taxpayers want," he said.
Pearl said he could not comment due to not having enough information on the matter to make a fair judgment.
Contact information could not be found for Coggins.