The League of Women Voters of Schenectady County is calling on the county Legislature to appoint a nonpartisan committee to study creation of a countywide police department.
The league, which made its request in letters to legislators last week, said a nonpartisan committee “should look at a range of solutions that make sense in regard to assuring public safety along with fiscally sound policies. The league would be very willing to serve on such a committee.”
County leaders will meet with the league officials Friday to discuss their position.
“If you understand the legal issues, you can come to your own conclusions,” County Attorney Chris Gardner said. “There is nothing wrong with studying things. But what led to this was [Mayor Brian U. Stratton’s] concern about discipline. If that is the concern, how do you deal with that? You can also have the unintended consequences of weakening the discipline system out there,” he said.
League member Helga A. Schroeter said the league’s position is not to criticize the county but to ask that it look into the issue. “All of us are suffering from higher and higher taxes and it becomes more of a necessity to consider consolidation,” she said.
The league’s letter said a study “may offer a creative look at some of the possibilities, keeping in mind that it is ultimately in the best interest of all the county residents to have an effective, trustworthy police force for us all.”
League President Joanne Tobiessen said the state League of Women Voters supports consolidation as a way to help save money and provide comprehensive services. “Our letter is in line with league interests in the past. We always encourage studying issues and looking at all sides of the issue,” she said.
Stratton, a Democrat, in March proposed consolidation as a way to save money and as a way to solve recurring discipline problems within the city police department. He said state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is interested in helping the city and would try to get a grant for a feasibility study.
After Stratton made his announcement, county Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, and Gardner took the unusual step of issuing a public rebuttal to Stratton’s position, citing legal obstacles.
But since taking control of the county Legislature in 2004, Democrats have made consolidation a priority, even going so far as to establish a committee on intergovernmental cooperation.
In recent years, the county has taken over maintenance of the city’s vehicles on a fee-for-service basis and has sought similar agreements with other municipalities.
It conducted a feasibility study on consolidating dispatch centers and is currently seeking state money to move the process forward. It also is working with the city to consolidate court facilities. At one point, it pursued a proposal to establish centralized police booking.
Stratton said he intends to pursue a feasibility study regardless of county opposition. “I am getting our process under way. I am trying to secure a state grant through the State Department or other viable agencies that could fund a professional, fast track and thorough feasibility study to look at benefits gained by consolidation,” he said.
Stratton said all he needs is one other municipality to pursue the study and has found that municipality: Glenville.
Glenville Supervisor Frank Quinn said he supports the study. “We need to look at all five towns and the city and the county and get data so we are doing data-driven decision-making,” he said.
He said Glenville has a “hell of a good police department, but it may be more effective and efficient to do it from a centralized basis. It is smart decision-making to get data and analyze data and see all the pros and the cons and then decide and see if we should pursue it any further.”
Supervisors Steven Tommasone of Rotterdam and Joe Landry of Niskayuna have come out against consolidation.