JAMESTOWN – Despite years of meetings, negotiations and over $200,000 in state money spent to complete a study and plan-of-action, it appears an intermunicipal agreement involving the Jamestown Police Department and the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office will not be coming forward for a vote in the Chautauqua County Legislature.
That from Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello, who said during his July 19 interview with WRFA that the effort to consolidate and share public safety services isn’t dead, but the involved parties will likely have to come back to the table to rework a proposal on how it can be accomplished.
Borrello said that the proposal of consolidating the JPD and by gradually bringing in Sheriff’s deputies to provide public safety within the city through a process of attrition doesn’t appear to have the support of the majority of members in the county legislature, nor from rank-and-file members of the police unions involved.
As a result, he said it may be time for city officials to go back to the drawing board to consider another approach to finding a way to reduce costs via public safety.
“I’m open to any options, but we need to start over again there and take a fresh look at this and look at other options as well,” Borrello said. “The thing that I see, when I look at Jamestown and I look at – for example – the town of Ellicott, you see Ellicott police cars drive across Jamestown to get from one end of the jurisdiction to the other, to me this screams for the opportunity to create a regional police force. You’ve got Ellicott Police, Lakewood-Busti Police, and Jamestown Police. Now there are many challenges there and I’m not sure of the appetite for that, but just looking at it from a logical standpoint, that’s probably the best place to start.”
Nearly ten years ago Jamestown was awarded $400,000 from the New York State Department of State to develop a plan to consolidate the JPD with the Sheriff’s Office in order to streamline public safety services while also reducing city expenses. In 2012 the city entered into a contract with the Rochester-based consulting firm Center for Governmental Research (CGR) to help develop the plan and after five years of work and negotiations, a final draft intermunicapal agreement was completed. Total spending for the effort was just over $200,000, with the remaining unspent grant money returned to the state.
The final draft agreement involved the city contracting with the Sheriff’s Office, gradually adding deputies to provide public safety services within the city to replace JPD officers as they left the department, either through retirement or resignation. Once fully implemented, the plan was expected to help save city taxpayers well over a million dollars in annual costs, with no additional costs to the county because the salaries and benefits provided to the Sheriff’s office are less expensive than those to the officers in the JPD.
But once the proposed intermunicipal agreement was completed, it didn’t appear to have majority support of the county legislature, which would be needed before Borrello could sign off on the deal. The city council would also have to approve it, but Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi has told WRFA it would be pointless to bring the matter up to a vote in the city unless the county was also willing to move forward.
Borrello said from what he’s learned, the majority of the members in the public safety unions also didn’t appear to favor the agreement. While their approval isn’t necessary to put the agreement in place, it does signify that a court battle would likely ensue with the union challenging the legality of the agreement, tying the process up in the courts and costing taxpayers money in legal fees. As a result, Borello said he’d prefer to see a plan that all sides – including labor – can agree on.
“You can sit around a board room or conference room with a bunch of executives and come up with a great plan, or what you think is a great plan, but if you don’t have the buy-in of the grassroots folks that are supposed to be executing that plan, you’re doomed to failure. And right now on both sides, I don’t see any support for this,” Borrello said.
The proposed public safety consolidation effort was one of a dozen proposed initiatives included on a $20 million shared services grant proposal that was submitted by the county to the New York State Department of State, and which Borrello helped to develop while serving as a county legislator prior to being elected County executive. While the county was a finalist for the grant, it eventually lost out, with the state instead giving the money to a community on Long Island.