WESTFIELD - Regardless of the outcome of an agreement between the village and the town, residents of the Town of Westfield will still have law enforcement coverage.
That is the message from Westfield Town Supervisor Martha Bills and Chautauqua County Undersheriff Charles J. Holder.
"I did want to tell people that if they do have a need for police services, that of course they are paying for sheriff's and state police services," Bills said at the most recent Town Board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 11. "They can call 911 just as they always would if they are in need of those services."
Bills said the town has been assured by Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph A. Gerace that town residents would receive coverage from his department.
"That could not be farther from the truth," Holder said of the concern that there would be no police coverage in the Town of Westfield by the sheriff's office. "They are getting as much coverage as any other township in the county."
The concern over coverage stems from the request by Westfield Village Mayor David Carr and the Westfield Village Board of Trustees for the Town of Westfield to pay more for protection by the village's police force. According to Bills, the agreement, which has covered this protection over the past 18 years, was for 400 hours of extra police protection. However, the situation has evolved to more protection that what was initially agreed upon.
"My disappointment is that twice we have asked to sit down with the Village Board and instead we read it in the paper," Town Board member David Brown said. "It's kind of unfortunate."
As of Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Town had not heard a response to its request for a meeting with the Village Board and no meeting between the two municipalities has been set.
At the Town Board meeting, Bills said the town is taking a look at all of its contracts right now and this is the time of year it signs contracts for the coming year. The town has requested a meeting with the village to discuss the issue and has sent a counter offer to the village, which according to the village states the town is willing to pay $15,000 per year, an increase of $5,000 from the current agreement. The village however is asking for $70,000.
"We're quite far apart on the cost," Bills said. "There's many things that we work together on and we'll continue looking at this, but I do think it's important that we sit down and discuss it and see if there is a way we can resolve our differences."
In the meantime, the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office and New York State Police will be responsible for law enforcement in the Town of Westfield, Holder said in a phone interview. When a call comes into the sheriff's office, whether it is a call for emergency or non-emergency service, the closest deputy or state trooper will be sent. Dispatch has a real-time map at its disposal which shows where the call is coming from and where all of the available cars are.
"I don't want the residents of the town thinking if a call comes in, Westfield's not going to respond, nobody's going to get the call," Holder said. "That's not true. We always send out a deputy or a trooper to the call in the Town of Westfield."
In the past, Holder said the sheriff's office had sent a Westfield Police Department car when it was the closest to the call, but it has come down from Westfield Police Chief Robert Genthner that that practice is not to happen anymore.
"As of right now, we are not giving Westfield calls outside the village," Holder said. "We just don't do it.
"I can understand their point of view that the village is paying for their police department, they want them inside the village," he said. "That's completely understandable."
However, Holder does not expect people to experience any differences due to this change.
"They won't see much of a difference," he said.
With budget cuts taking place across the county, state and country, the sheriff's department had to lay off 16 part-time deputies as of Jan. 1 of this year and their responsibilities - mostly transporting prisoners - are now being performed by full time deputies. This means they are not available for calls or patrols while transporting.
"That's why we're hurting now on the road," Holder said.
However, the sheriff's office has been teaming up with the state police in order to continue to provide police protection for Chautauqua County.
"We've been working really well with the state police," Holder said.
In addition, the sheriff's department offers enhanced police services to townships that want to contract with it. The Town of Ripley currently has such a contract, which includes a deputy, a sheriff's car and all necessary insurance and workman's compensation for $35.35 per hour of patrol. However, that car is dedicated to the township paying for it and the town gets to choose the number of hours and what days it wants coverage.
"We're going to offer that to the Town of Westfield for an additional coverage if they want to pick up a couple of nights a week, to have that extra patrol car totally dedicated to the town," Holder said. "We can do that."
There is a clause in the contract that if an emergency occurs outside of the town and the dedicated car is the closest, it may be pulled and sent to the emergency until another deputy or trooper arrives. The dedicated car then returns to the township.
In addition to Ripley, Brocton and Sunset Bay usually pay for a summer contract, Dunkirk had a contract which expired on Jan. 1 and it is currently discussions about renewing and Hanover has a full-time contract for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Public safety is very important to us," Bills said in a phone interview. "In these tough economic times, we're trying to find a way to make it affordable to residents. A contract with the sheriff is one option if enhanced police services become necessary."
Holder is planning on attending the Town Board meeting on Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m., to answer any questions residents may have.