Eliminating the road patrol division of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department to help balance the 2012 county budget would be a foolish and dangerous measure, Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey said Tuesday.
Lorey, responding to a comment from County Administrator Jon R. Stead, called the proposal “the most ridiculous idea I’ve heard.”
Stead mentioned the possible elimination of road patrols to save $1.1 million as one of many options the county Board of Supervisors will have to explore as it tries to live within the state’s new 2 percent property tax cap. The county board also has the option of lifting the cap with a supermajority vote — at least 60 percent of the board’s weighted vote tally.
Stead said Tuesday the budget process is in its early stages and the road patrol proposal is one of many that may eventually be reviewed by the board.
“It might save $1.1 million,” Lorey said, “but it would put the citizens of Fulton County in danger.”
He said the department responds to about 2,000 calls per month and is currently able to respond immediately to each caller. There are 30 staffers in the road patrol division and they provide a police presence throughout the county, he said.
“The basic premise of government is to provide safety to its people,” Lorey said. “If it can’t provide safety, it might as well not exist,” he said.
He said there are county officials who apparently believe the state police can fill any void. But, he said, the sheriff’s department road patrol answers more than twice as many calls as state troopers respond to.
Lorey said he has discussed the idea of eliminating the road patrol with several supervisors who, he said, all expressed their opposition.
Broadalbin Supervisor Joseph DiGiacomo said he has yet to see any proposal but said he would also probably oppose eliminating road patrols.
“The town of Broadalbin depends on the sheriff,” he said, noting that deputies have more presence on town roads than the state police.
Fulton County board Chairman and Bleecker town Supervisor David Howard could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.
“If this comes to anything more than an idea,” Lorey said, efforts will be made to let the “people know what is happening.
Whether the road patrol proposal ever finds support or not, Stead said he and other county officials will be trying to find cuts somewhere.
The state tax cap limits annual property tax increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. He said, it appears inflation is running around 1.6 percent, meaning the county would be allowed to raise the tax levy no more than $400,000 next year.
Coincidentally, he said, that figure is also about the same as the Medicaid increase allocated to the county for 2012, providing no room for any other increases, though many costs are rising.
As part of the tax cap legislation, Stead said there was supposed to be significant mandate relief. That relief has not materialized, he said. If New York enacted the same Medicaid policies practiced in all other states, counties would be relieved of the mandate to split the cost equally with the state. For Fulton County, the local share next year will be about $14 million.
Stead provided an analysis of a combined county, town and fire tax bills for a Bleecker homeowner. Of the $2,465 owed, $1,021 goes toward the county’s Medicaid obligation, Stead calculated.
Other burdensome local mandates, Stead said, include a county share of about $1 million for the public assistance safety net program, $475,000 for child welfare and $1.3 million for preschool education for children with special education needs.
“The math just doesn’t work for most counties,” he said.