Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Sheriff and Policing . . .

Credit must be given to Mr. Picente for starting the conversation about consolidation in local government . . . in this case, law enforcement. Picente said:
"My goal is to merge together the operations of all of our municipal forces and then fill in areas that require police services through a department that is part of the county’s organizational structure — not apart from it,” he said in his budget address. “And then scale down the existing sheriff’s functions to focus on corrections, court security and other civil functions.”
Clearly, our current structure of mini-jurisdictions is expensive and inefficient. Plop a 2-mile radius circle on a county map and you can touch upon up to 6 police jurisdictions (e.g., Yorkville, NY Mills, Whitesboro, New Hartford Town, Whitestown and Utica). Except for Utica and perhaps New Hartford, these small jurisdictions really cannot afford to maintain a lot of in-house forensics expertise. And then there is the duplication of administrative functions that must be paid for.

Overlapping jurisdictions is another inefficiency that is particularly unfair to city and village residents. The residents of the cities and villages, and those towns which maintain their own forces, already pay for police protection in their local tax. The county, however, forces these same residents to pay to provide similar services to residents in outlying areas . . . in effect, subsiding the cost of policing them . . . a cost that is likely more expensive per capita to provide because of the large territories that must be covered. Utica and New Hartford residents each pay for 911 service -- and also pay again to provide same to the rest of the county. With the same arrangement for other services (such as snowplowing) it should be no surprise that the cities and villages have higher taxes, discouraging development therein.

Consolidation must come.

That said, I do not like Mr. Picente's "top-down" approach.

For consolidation to be palatable, people need to feel that they will get value for their money -- not just save money.

Consolidation at the county level makes sense for geographically small counties like Onondaga and Schenectady, or densely populated counties like Erie and Suffolk. Consolidation at a county level should work for these two types of counties because the interests of the residents to be affected will be similar -- in the former owing to limited geography, in the latter owing to a similar environment. (Try distinguishing between the adjoining towns on Long Island and you will get the picture: everything looks pretty much the same everywhere).

Oneida County residents, however, have diverse interests, because it is geographically large with densely populated jurisdictions adjoining sparsely populated ones. A county level police force will become like EDGE, or the Sewer District, or the Water Authority . . . perceived to respond to special interests rather than the public at large.

It is neither practical, nor efficient, to provide the same level of services everywhere. Attempts to do so have resulted in sprawl, requiring the public to maintain far more infrastructure than necessary, driving expenses up and development out of the places we previously equipped for same: our cities and villages. . . . which begets more sprawl in a cyclic fashion. This creates economic "winners" and "losers," with the "winners" being the "newer" areas that are easy to develop, the "losers" being the older areas left behind -- and the quality of life in both being degraded. Of course, "winners" may also be the areas where the most influential people at any particular point in time live.

Instead of imposing consolidation from the "top down," the County should encourage consolidation from the "bottom up."

It can start by employing differential tax rates to eliminate county charges for services that residents of municipalities already provide to themselves through their city/village/town taxes. Imagine that! Only paying the county for services NOT already provided locally. No more Utica and New Hartford paying for county 911. No more Utica or village residents paying for the Sheriff's patrol or toward snowplowing county roads. Of course, this will increase expenses for people living in the outlying areas -- as it should. It costs more to service people who choose to locate at distances from everyone else. If they want the service, they either pay the county its true cost, negotiate an annexation with a neighboring jurisdiction having the service, or do without. No arm twisting -- just people being made to pay their own way.

It can continue by eliminating the tax breaks and special grants for "greenfield" developments that encourage sprawl. If private businesses need public investments, then they can at least be required to locate where infrastructure is already in place but is underutilized.

It can continue by getting out of the water and sewer businesses, and turn responsibility for these over to the municipalities served, letting the municipalities figure out for themselves how these services will be governed and paid for.

The suburban communities could NEVER have afforded the cost of sewage treatment themselves. Had the county NOT stepped in, fiscal survival would have ultimately resulted in some consolidation (by annexation) with Utica. Non-annexed suburban areas would have developed in a very different way, retaining a more rural character, because they would have depended on septic fields. We would not see the sprawl that we see today . . . Town and City taxes would both likely be lower . . . and the qualities that make people choose city or suburban life would be maintained. The county actually enabled suburban areas to avoid consolidation by creating the part county sewer district.

Consolidation is needed, but it must come from the "bottom up," not the "top down." It will not, and should not, be accepted until people know they will get fair value for their tax dollars in return.


Anonymous said...

Why does Mr. Picente REFUSE to transfer the 911 Call Center Operation from the Town of New Hartford to the Oneida County Unit?

New Hartford Town residents pay over $500,000 dollars for this less than efficient service which cannot even handle cell phone calls.

The 2009 Town Budget proposed by Earle Reed who was not even present when the budget was being put together demands the town adopt his budget fiasco. After all, was it not Earle Reed who DISBANDED the Town's Budget Committee?

Is this one of those REPUBLICAN deals with Earle Reed and Company?

Who is sucking up to whom?

Lastly, the Observer Disgrace, oops, I meant to say, "Dispatch" or should it have been "dogpatch" did not allow any mention in the Picente news article regarding the transfer of New Hartford's 911 Call Center Operation. Why?

Is this one of those Donna Donovan directives?

clipper said...

Just a peek at a different governing structure and tax base.

Here in NE Tennessee we have either "city" or "county" services. There are NO townships or villages per say.

We have communities such as Piney Flats and Benhams and such. They do not have goverments of their own. We pay county taxes living in the rural areas and if you live in a city, you pay both city and county tax.

Services such as sewer are provided by the city. If you live "out in the county" you have a septic system. When we pay for our water, we are not paying for someone elses disposal of sewage with an attached sewer tax.

Our fire protection is provided by the county fire department which is volunteer. There are several fire houses and lots of up to date equipment, but no duplication of items such as an over abundance of Areal trucks. Fire response is totally efficient, and we don't subsidize extra equipment and buildng projects.

Every hoakey little burg doesn't have 12 part time cops and a chief, along with 2 or 3 cars to simply write traffic tickets and respond to family disputes. Our sheriffs department responds to ALL calls outside the cities and in all rural areas, and with quick response times. Our state police are seen mainly if it is an accident on a state highway, or a major crime such as murder or kidnapping.

Our taxes are much lower here, not because we have done away with county government functions, but because we have no politically motivated little fiefdoms to support with our tax money.

I don't pay for Joe Blows 300 lb brother in-law to sit in a patrol car slurping down chili dogs and running radar for 20 hours a week. I don't pay for local police infrastructure like a police station, a town court, town judges, and a half dozen expensive patrol cars for the politically hired part time cops to park their patronizing asses in while burning up tax money running the air conditioner or heater.

Anonymous said...

This is wcup102 and I just didn't want to log in LOL!!!!Not to sound ignorant, I think I understand what you are saying about not paying for the services outside their jurisdiction of which they are already paying for, correct? If so then who pays for the services they receive when they do come outside their communities and require police/fire/ems service? Is it fair to the rest in the outlying areas that they pay for the plowed roads in the rural areas that they may have to travel to work or liesure activities? Is this what you are saying, correct me if I am wrong?

Strikeslip said...

Good comment Wcup102, and yes that is exactly what I am saying, if I am understanding you correctly. . . . and it IS fair.

The answer is that the people who live in the outside areas will be paying to protect you when you travel in their area (and if not, then there is the state police which everyone pays for) . . . This is fair because you pay to protect them when they come to your area. But if the service does not exist in their area (eg, like ambulance service) then you had better be ready to pay for it yourself when you need it. I encountered this myself 20 years ago when my wife and I went whale watching in Provincetown, MA, and she got sick. The nearest hospital was Hyannis -- a very long and expensive ambulance ride away.

Greens and Beans said...

Sheriff Department:

I fully appreciate the fact that the police protection in Oneida County needs consolidation. Special attention must be given to population density, commercial and retail centers. There is comfort in knowing that there is a first responder service such as a local Fire Department, 9-1-1 center, Ambulance service, or Police Agency close by. But the cost of any redundancy can be overbearing to a community suffering from a diminishing population with a dwindling tax base.

I must applaud County Executive Picente for his wanting to abolish the Sheriff Department road patrol and focusing on the corrections aspect of the Sheriff’s Office. The road patrol is definitely the ultimate duplication of services. The State of New York already provides police protection with their rural State Trooper road patrol, Bureau of Criminal Investigations, and forensics units. So why would the Oneida County taxpayers, with their shrinking population, need to fund to duplicate these services?

This past summer the State Police announced that they planned to eliminate the road patrol unit that is assigned to the Marcy substation. Does anyone think, with four MAJOR Correctional facilities and the New York State Office of Mental Hygiene’s “Central New York Psychiatric Center” (that houses the criminally insane as well as the Correctional facility released pedophile and sex offender units) that the State Police would allow these facilities to go without police backup protection in the event of a possible emergency? NEVER! But with the Oneida County Sheriff road patrol, the State Police can feel comfortable in scaling back their Trooper coverage in this area. It also limits any potential liability from the State to the County Sheriff Department in terms of being legally responsible for police backup in the event of a prison riot.

With all of the Social Services unfunded mandates that the State imposes on the County taxpayers, why would the county want to subsidize the task of providing costly police protection to New York’s rural areas when the State already provides this protection? In this instance, I must compliment County Executive Picente’s courage for entertaining the notion of eliminating this incredibly costly duplication of services. This should be taken seriously by our County Legislators. They should appropriate funds to conduct a comprehensive professional study to facilitate this task. It should be now and if feasible, the road patrol should be phased out and a tax cut and tax rebate should be remanded to the county taxpayers.