by Susan Mikula Campbell
When Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour rode into the Town of Niagara earlier this month, he was met by only about a half dozen residents.
Throughout 2010, Voutour has been holding what he calls "Town Hall" meetings in all of Niagara County's towns and cities, giving an overview of Sheriff's Office operations and answering residents' questions. In past meetings he has drawn bigger crowds, but unfortunately, his Town of Niagara visit coincided with a blustery winter evening and Christmas holiday preparations.
Still, those who attended said they were impressed.
"This is our first chance to meet him," said Joan Meyers, who attended with her husband, William. "I think he's doing a fantastic job."
Voutour talked about the work of his three major departments - communications, corrections and criminal - plus allowed residents to pick from a list of videos on various topics. He explained his stewardship of the Sheriff's Office's $34 million budget, $19 million of which comes from local taxpayers.
Like local municipalities complaining about the state horning in on casino and Power Authority funds, and school districts wondering why lottery money designated for education goes in the state general fund, sheriffs have their own beef about state rustling.
People don't realize that there are state charges on cell phone bills that were designated to fund 911 centers in counties across the state, but only a small percentage does, the remainder is pocketed by the state government.
"In my eyes, they violate the law," Voutour said, adding that the issue is something the state Sheriffs' Association has been lobbying hard to change.
The Sheriff's Office pinches pennies to get best value wherever it can. For instance, local produce is purchased whenever possible for meals at the jail. Lunch only costs about 97 cents, one of the lowest in the state. Also, Voutour was able to almost half the cost of prescription drugs by changing vendors (previous vendor was overcharging) and by asking doctors to prescribe fewer and less expensive medications when possible.
The Town of Niagara has its own police department, which takes almost 5,700 calls per year. The Sheriff's Office receives almost 3,300 calls in the town. For both, vehicle checks and traffic stops account for the most calls. While not in the top three, domestic calls are kind of high in the town, with town police taking 199 calls and deputies answering 85 in 2009. The town is also an active area for stolen vehicle reports as part of the Niagara Falls, Wheatfield and North Tonawanda corridor.
The Sheriff's Office has a Sex Offender Management Program, which keeps track of sex offenders wherever they are in Niagara County within a quarter mile of any residence. About 362 sex offenders are listed in Niagara County, with only three currently listed in the Town of Niagara. Those in the town are Level 1 offenders, the least serious, but as Voutour said, Deputy Joe Flagler, who heads the tracking program likes to say, "The only difference between a Level 1 and a Level 3 is a good lawyer."
Residents can sign up for e-mail notification if a sex offender moves into a certain radius sites such as their home, a school, park or day care center.
The Sheriff's Office has a long list of programs available to the public, ranging from a Citizen Observer program, which allows anonymous crime tips to be reported, to a scholarship program. Voutour advised residents to check the website at niagarasheriff.com.