Story and photo by Terry Duffy
The Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees will hold its regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday. The Lewiston Police Department is not on the agenda, but the LPD-village stalemate over funding is on the minds of many.
"Please come and express your concerns over village public safety cuts," read a notice posted this week on LPD's Facebook page.
Following the Thursday, Oct. 4, meeting of the Village Board with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office to discuss the alternatives (Sentinel, Oct. 6), Mayor Terry Collesano, village trustees, Clerk Ann Welch and village attorneys met Tuesday with LPD Chief Chris Salada and Sgt. Frank Previte III. "We were able to air a lot of our ... miscommunications ... things we weren't aware of, (have) each of our priorities" addressed," said Salada. "Overall it was a good meeting. (But) no commitments were made."
Salada said last Thursday's meeting with Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour and Undersheriff Michael Filicetti discussed alternatives to LPD patrols. The "sheriff offered them a package deal; they could take different packages for different amounts of coverage." Salada said the village didn't provide him any details of the meeting.
Tuesday's session with the village had its focus on LPD costs and Salada said overall it was productive.
"They asked where I could make cuts in my budget, cut where I can. I told them I've been trying to do that, cut where I can."
"I've always tried to be fiscally responsible," Salada continued. "I don't spend where I don't need to spend, I don't believe in that. It's taxpayer money we're spending."
Regarding any possible department cuts, Salada didn't elaborate, but said, "The last place I want to cut is cars on the road. That's our most important service."
Currently, LPD operates two one-officer patrol cars 24/7 - one in its northern zone, an area below the hill and including the village - the other being the southern zone above the hill and including such areas as Niagara University, the hamlet of Sanborn, Saunders Settlement Road and the Tuscarora Indian Nation areas. Of the two, he describes the village as the busiest for the northern zone, while all areas are busy in the southern zone. "We're a busy department for a town-village police department," said Salada.
He said LPD has responded to 1,540 calls to date in the Village of Lewiston alone. He also said village officials told him they had no problem whatsoever with current LPD patrols and that performance wasn't an issue.
Of complaints to the board that LPD wasn't visible on village streets, Salada disputed that. "I don't know how that's possible (that) they're seeing less patrols.
"If they are, I wish they would direct them (complaints) to me," said Salada. "I would explain that with our patrols, in no way are they being neglected."
He said the department continues to operate efficiently, equipment-wise, noting that past purchases such as its Segway two-wheeler, off-road vehicles, LPD's new K-9 Chevy SUV now being acquired, and other patrol cars are all funded through grant money. He said LPD patrol cars are typically leased for a period of three years, and then owned by the department. "It costs us nothing," Salada said of LPD's equipment expenses. "It doesn't come out of our budget."
He said both sides (LPD and the village) were in agreement on a major cost contributor Tuesday - the ever-growing activity in the village. "They focused on the festivals. They realize that the multiple festivals they have ... are growing, but so are the costs."
Salada said he and the village board discussed "avenues" aimed at better covering costs and that festival and/or event organizers might be asked to bear greater portions of LPD expenses. He noted that LPD personnel costs vary greatly depending on the type of festival/event they cover. Artpark concerts, for example, typically see 12 Lewiston officers - full and part-timers, plus extras, assigned to cover Tuesday and Wednesday concerts plus other Artpark concert events as needed. All this is in addition to the LPD's regular north and south zone patrols.
Salada said LPD's annual budget with the Town of Lewiston for a consolidated town-village police department totals $1.3 million. Of that, he said the village contributes 23 percent to the town on an annual basis. Salada furnished a sheet this week from Village Deputy Treasurer Karen Goodman showing two payments thus far of $120,381.04 made to the town. He said he raised issue to contentions that were made in the Oct. 6 Sentinel by Collesano of "paying nearly $300,000" to the town for LPD services. Village officials told Salada Tuesday, "We'll have to look at it."
When asked about that figure this week, Collesano confirmed the two payments. But he added, "We haven't paid everything yet; we pay three times a year."
Collesano went on to explain that the village and town's budget cycles differ, with the town's being December to January and the village being May to June. "There's an overlap," he said.
"The budget total amount is $294,500. That's the total budget, that's what we pay. We haven't paid the whole thing yet, we have to December to make the next payment."
Collesano said the town sends an invoice to the village and then a payment is made. Of the figure furnished to Salada, he added, "I only gave him what we paid, we're not done paying."
Next, Salada turned his attention to revenue to village coffers from LPD enforcement activity, which he said was considerable. He said that from June 2011 to May 2012, revenues from LPD enforcement activity in the village, such as parking tickets issued, open container violations and traffic enforcement fines amounted to $18,000, money that went to the village general fund. This year, from June 1 to Aug. 28, that amount was $4,000.
He noted that event/festival personnel expenses for the department vary, with lighter events such as the Garden Fest having smaller LPD patrols, and bigger events requiring increased patrols such as the Lewiston Art Festival, or the Historic Lewiston Jazz Festival. Salada described the Jazz Fest as "an evening event, with alcohol and more outside visitors" and one that sees up to eight officers assigned to patrol. Again this is in addition to manning the department's regular north and south zones.
"We feel probably one of the biggest problems we have is all these different festivals," said Collesano, adding the village asked Salada for a breakdown of LPD overtime costs. "The biggest is Artpark; we don't get anything. By rights we should be getting 23 percent.
"We can't do this on our own. Costs just keep going up and up," Collesano said.
Salada said he and the village would like to see some type of financial assistance provided by event organizers to cover department personnel costs, such as those provided by Lewiston Kiwanis for the Peach Festival, the separate hiring of private security by Dimino's Lewiston Tops (also for the Peach Festival) or assistance such as is being provided this weekend by the Historical Association of the Lewiston to cover the War of 1812 binational events in the village.
Of reactions thus far, Salada said that throughout the week LPD's Facebook page has received a number of responses from residents, businesses and others - all in support of the department's situation with the village. A sampling of comments include:
•"I support Chris Salada and the rest of the LPD."
•"I grew up in Lewiston, and our police officers have always been pillars in the community. I remember them being our DARE community and sitting next to them in church. I had the help of a policeman immediately when I was 11 and got hit by a car on my bike. I remember receiving my first ticket for blowing a stop sign on Ninth and Oneida. They don't just sit in their cruisers with radars, their presence at the Peach Festival, 'Tuesday in the Park,' and other events gives a vibe of safety that cannot be matched in other communities. Not to mention the presence of LPD keeps drunk drivers off the road. The local bars bring in traffic from NU, events such as Artpark concerts and various festivals attract traffic from who ever knows where. It is bad enough that said tourists are so disrespectful to the residents of the community, let's not make the presence of public servants scarce as well."
•"My mother lives on Center Street and owns a business on Center Street, and I always know she is safe at 5 a.m. when she is opening up her business because these guys are always there to watch out for her. I have a 14-year-old sister who thinks she is invincible, but I never worry about her being home by herself due to Lewiston being such a safely patrolled area with its own police force."
•"I currently live by myself in a rural area that is protected by state troopers and Niagara County Sheriffs, and I honestly wouldn't know who to call if I ever had an emergency."
•"I can think of areas that maybe should downsize on police officers, but I do not find Lewiston to be one of them."
Summing up the Village Board, Salada commented, "They're more than happy with our service; it just boils down to the bottom line for them."
"Hopefully, it can be resolved," said Collesano. "The sticking point is the cost." He said the village did comparisons with other similar sized villages such as Youngstown and Barker and said Lewiston far exceeds others, again pointing to the festival and Artpark costs that need to be addressed.
"We want to keep this relationship," said Salada. "We want to patrol the village, do the best job we can for them, we have an interest here, we live here. I'm going to do everything I can to be fiscally responsible, as I have been all along."
The village is expected to meet on Oct. 29 with Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter and the Town Board to discuss the LPD matter further as the town finalizes its 2013 budget.
"Hopefully it will all be worked out, and we'll continue what we're doing," Salada closed.