Lawmakers debate over sheriff deputies
YATES COUNTY (8/10/16)--The Yates County Legislature voted eight votes to five to fill a deputy sheriff position during their meeting Monday, Aug. 8. This full-time position will be vacated due to a retirement Oct. 6, 2016, but some legislators believed they could have used the position as a way to reduce costs in the public safety department.
Legislator Elden Morrison highlighted the potential for cost savings through elimination of the position, saying he believes the sheriff's department is overstaffed. He questioned the need for 16 deputies in the county, adding that is the maximum number that has ever been authorized. Morrison said that is not the baseline number, instead noting the baseline number should be 12 deputies. He said studies he and other legislators have done indicate the number is excessive and that the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) study had some flaws in it, as proper numbers were not put into the formula for determining the amount of necessary staff.
"We have some very low hanging fruit here, and I believe we should take advantage of this excellent opportunity to contain costs," Morrison said in an email to the legislature dated Aug. 6.
Morrison also stated he thinks the department would be able to adjust their schedule to accommodate a lost position, since they are going into the fall, people will be coming out of training and he thinks the department will be very well staffed.
Legislator Bill Holgate, who is also chair of the Public Safety Committee, said Sheriff Ron Spike does the scheduling, saying it is not what the legislature is here to do. Holgate said the sheriff is telling them he needs this position, highlighting the increases in overtime costs when the department is down deputies. He said the sheriff is also reacting to several instances that have gone on throughout the county, such as the heroin problem and a body being recently dumped in the woods from a Monroe County homicide.
Morrison questioned the fact the county is a co-employer of the sheriff's department with the sheriff. Spike said the sheriff is a co-employer according to New York State Civil Service Law, adding he is trying to maintain minimums in his department. Morrison said he would like the sheriff to send him the law on the co-employer issue, stating "When you say it is clarified, it is not clarified to me until I see it." He added the inputs to the DCJS study were wrong, and that the minimums would not be 16 deputies.
Spike appeared to take offense at the comment, asking Morrison if he was calling him a liar. Legislator P. Earle Gleason said he takes insult to what Morrison said, saying Spike is one of the most decorated sheriffs in the state.
"To suggest that he does not know what he is talking about of civil service law, I believe he knows more about it than you do, sir."
Legislator Mark Morris said he can see the points Morrison is making about the DCJS study, and that there is some validity to his statements regarding minimum staffing. Legislator Gary Montgomery said the legislature has been discussing this issue for the past two and a half years that he has been in office, and the retirement is an opportunity to look at it again. He said there is a lot of data that supports the sheriff's office has too robust of a staff.
"It does come down to dollars and cents at the end of the day," Montgomery said.
Legislator Doug Paddock said the legislature has had opportunities in the past, but has voted to maintain the current staff levels.
When a vote was taken, Morrison, Montgomery, Morris, James Smith and Terry Button were the only votes against, with the resolution passing eight to five. The legislature also approved the creation of a temporary deputy sheriff position for up to 60 days to allow an officer to attend the Basic Training Academy in Elmira Aug. 15. Morrison, Morris, Montgomery and Smith were the only votes against.
In other business:
• The legislature voted to pass a resolution supporting the reopening of the Greenidge Power Plant in Dresden. Greenidge initially announced their plans to repower the Dresden plant in August of 2015. The former coal-fired power plant was originally built in 1937 before going offline in 2011. The current proposal involves converting the facility to natural gas, using biomass as intermediary fuels. It also includes a 4.5 mile proposed pipeline through Yates County to connect the power plant to the Empire Connector gas pipeline. Peter Gamba spoke prior to its approval citing his concerns with the environmental impact, viability and need for the plant to reopen and urged the legislature to reconsider their approval, but the measure passed unanimously.
• Yates County Chamber of Commerce Director Mike Linehan gave a presentation to the legislature about the 2015 economic impact of tourism in New York and Yates County. He said Yates County experienced a 5.3 percent growth from 2014 to 2015, noting the regional growth was flat (0 percent). Linehan said the new hotels in Penn Yan have helped contribute to this growth. New York State's tourism economy expanded in 2015 with 1 percent growth in traveler spending. Excluding purchases of gasoline, which fell due to a nearly 30 percent fall in fuel prices, traveler spending in New York expanded 3.8 percent last year.