By NICOLE GUGINO
OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
SILVER CREEK - Rumors have been circulating in Silver Creek recently that the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office is taking over police protection for the village.
The OBSERVER has received several phone calls and emails saying the village has secretly approved a contract, has laid off officers and has done so without the knowledge of the public.
Mayor Nick Piccolo insists no contract has been signed, but the sheriff's department will have a greater presence in the village beginning Saturday.
"We just don't have the manning for 24-7 coverage. The part-timers are not able to work the hours we need so we are bringing in the sheriff's just as a safety precaution," he said.
Piccolo said there have not been any layoffs but the summer season increases the need for officers in the village.
"The big thing is we have a lot of traffic now in and around the village. The part-timers that work for the Erie County Sheriff's are working more hours and their availability is minimal at this time. We want to make sure with more traffic and people we have the coverage. It is a public safety issue more than anything," Piccolo added.
He said the village does not have a formal agreement with the sheriff's office, but hopes deputies will be able to fill in.
"The problem we are having is we don't have people to cover. I hope the sheriff's will do it until we have an agreement," he said. "The sheriff is required to cover municipalities when they can't provide the coverage for the people."
Sheriff Joseph Gerace confirmed the sheriff's office will be filling in.
"We are planning on closing any gap they may have in coverage until a decision is made by the board," Gerace said.
Piccolo said the village board is still in a discussion phase on police coverage.
"People are just getting excited before anything has happened. We are still just talking," he explained. "Before anything is decided a lot of things have to happen before it is a reality. Honestly, we aren't even close to that point yet."
He said he will have more details of the sheriff's coverage at Monday's village board meeting.