Cop cost-saving options offered

Hitting the road
The Southold Town Board, which initially saw no need to accept the donation of a 2010 Harley-Davidson Electraglide from the Suffolk District Attorney

There are a number of steps available to the town to keep police costs in check, but most of the options outlined this week by the town’s police advisory committee are contractual and so require PBA approval.

The committee made its recommendations during Tuesday’s Town Board work session. The town and its police union are in negotiations to replace the contract that expired Dec. 31.

Topping the committee’s list is increasing the minimum number of days an officer must work each year from 239 to 260. Committee member Gunther Geiss reported that a previous administration agreed to reduce work days to avoid salary increases. The 260 days equals five days a week for 52 weeks, not including vacation and sick time. Other givebacks that must be negotiated include requiring individual contributions to health insurance and trimming other, lesser benefits such as uniform cleaning allowances.

To reduce the need for officer overtime, the committee recommended staffing eight sergeants, two per squad rather than one. The department currently has six sergeants with one out on disability.

Mr. Geiss also spoke of introducing limited duty assignments for officers out on disability. “Hey, we’re paying you,” he said. “The least you can do is come in and show your face.” He added that the town needs to address officers out on extended disability “who work the system.”

The committee also suggested ending the practice of allowing police officers to stockpile unused sick and vacation days.

On the possible elimination of the DARE anti-drug program, Mr. Geiss said that while studies question its effectiveness, it’s popular with parents and the interaction between the uniformed DARE officers and students helps youths develop a positive image of the police.

Supervisor Scott Russell agreed. “It offers some positive benefits, just not the benefits that were the original intent.”

The town department has two patrol officers assigned to DARE duty.

The police department, which costs $10.7 million annually, is by far the largest single component of the town’s $36 million budget. Full staffing is 52 officers, but five are out on disability and five more have retired and not been replaced.

Further trimming of staff is not a viable cost-cutting option, the committee said. Both Mr. Geiss and police advisory committee chairman Henry Flinter said the town had changed over the past decade or so and there are no longer any off-season “dead periods.”

“There is never a community that requests less coverage,” the supervisor said.

Town, NFAWL at peace

The town has rescinded a Feb. 3 letter to the North Fork Animal Welfare League that threatened to terminate its contract to run Southold’s animal shelter unless it provided what was then said to be missing basic information, such as the fate of adopted dogs and how much was collected in adoption fees.

League president Therese McGuinness told The Suffolk Times that she and league executive director Gillian Pultz had met with the supervisor on April 7 and that he extended “a heartfelt apology on behalf of the town” for issuing the termination notice, which gave the organization until May 15 to comply. Ms. McGuinness previously said the league had given the town all the information prior to February.

Mr. Russell said he did indeed apologize for demanding information the town had already received.

The issue boiled down to what the league’s reporting requirements to the town should be. Still, he maintained that the league “fundamentally changed what gets reported to the town and we had not been receiving our share of fees.” There is a difference, he said, in how the town and the league each interpret the contract, which expires in six months.

“If the town considers offering a new contract to prospective vendees in the fall, the language will be bold and clear,” he said. “This whole issue got out of hand, I believe, from a lack of communication and both sides need to share some of the blame.”

More land preserved

After a quiet public hearing Tuesday night, the Town Board voted to spend $1.6 million to purchase the development rights to Cutchogue farmland owned by Maria and Michael Demchak. Tapping into the Community Preservation Fund, the town paid $65,000 per buildable acre for 24.6 acres on Oregon Road and Route 48. “You look at the map, that’s a really impressive block of preserved farmland now,” Councilman Al Krupski said of the area near the Demchak farm. “It takes a long time to accumulate that land that’s really going to support agriculture forever in this town. And it’s not willy-nilly.”

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Reporter Erin Schultz contributed to this story.

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