Testing the waters

SILVER CREEK – It was standing room only as the Silver Creek Village Board was faced with nearly 30 residents looking for answers.

The crowded meeting centered around residents’ comments and concerns about shifting police coverage from the local police department to the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office.

Legislator George Borrello began the comment portion of the meeting with questions of his own to bring back to the county audit and control committee and the legislature.

“Do you intend to replace the Silver Creek Police Department with the sheriff’s?” he asked.

Village Attorney Dan Gard answered for the board.

“From a legal point of view we are not. This agreement could be temporary if we do not like the coverage we receive. We will maintain the option to go back,” he explained.

Gard said the contract is different from others in that it is more detailed and that what the village is doing has been “well researched.”

Borrello also asked if the village will have a referendum to eliminate the police department and if the sheriff’s agreement would be retroactive to June 1. Gard said the village will not have a referendum because it does not want to eliminate the department. Mayor Nick Piccolo said the contract would be retroactive to June 1.

Piccolo also announced Silver Creek Police Chief Timothy Roche sent a letter of irrrevocable resignation to the board effective June 14.

He also explained termination letters were sent out to officers on Friday in order to begin the process of an agreement with the sheriff’s office. The next steps will be for the contract to be viewed by the county public safety and audit and control committees before going before the county legislature for approval and then back to the village board for approval.

“I think you did what you wanted and got rid of the chief,” resident Anna Frederickson said.

Former full-time Silver Creek Police Officer Nate Narraway said he was upset “how things went down,” and wished there was more communication from the board before he received his pink slip.

Other residents said a main factor in their moving to or remaining in the village is having the local police.

“I like having the village police and I wouldn’t mind paying a little extra money to keep the department,” resident Bill Maecker said.

He asked what brought the village to this point.

Piccolo said the main contributor was the loss of many of the department’s full-time officers and then the lack of a selection of local, trained replacements. He explained with several part-time officers mandated for overtime at their other jobs, the remaining officers could only cover one-and-a-half to two shifts at the most and the board did not want to sacrifice 24-7 coverage for the village because of understaffing.

Resident Don Wells questioned the savings to the village and Sandy Lindstrom said she would like to see a side by side comparison of the costs for the village police and the sheriff’s contract. Piccolo said the savings cannot be determined until the contract is approved.

Resident Paul Bogosian said he does not doubt the competence of either department, but sees this decision as a fork in the road.

“If this county continues to exist, we must resist decline and a municipal police department is central to that. We are at a fork in the road. This may be the most important decision the board has had to make in 30 years. If we lose the police department it will negatively change our community and it will be the worst decision the board has made,” he said to applause from other residents.

His son, Matt Bogosian, agreed, questioning how much money the village will save and what else the board has looked at to save money “instead of sacrificing public safety.”

Trustee Thomas Harmon said the decision was not easy, but proactive measures were not taken in the past or maintaining the department would be more of an option.

Piccolo thanked residents for their comments.

The board also approved a $2,000 transfer from the Stop DWI reserve to the Stop DWI equipment fund for new vests for the police department.

The board will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. in the village hall to discuss NYSERDA energy-saving projects with Wendel engineers. The board will hold its next regular meeting June 17.

The county public safety committee meeting will be held June 17 and the audit and control committee meeting June 20. The legislature meets June 26.