With the question of whether to reduce or even do away with the Sag Harbor Village Police Department on the agenda, Tuesday night’s meeting of the Sag Harbor Village Board brought out many residents, as well as the village police chief, Tom Fabiano, the local Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick Milazzo, and several police officers.
When Mayor Brian Gilbride opened the meeting to discussion, residents expressed concern for the safety of the village’s older residents, saying the department took special care of them, as attested by weekly police logs filled with assists to older people and checks on their welfare.
One woman asserted that “a huge portion” of Sag Harbor residents are elderly. She said she would worry about her mother if she had to depend on an officer coming from Southampton. A man said he wouldn’t mind his taxes going up a bit for the comfort of keeping a village police force in the community.
Ethel Card, a longtime resident, said, “We call the ambulance, the police are there immediately, no matter what time of day or night . . . I would like to know how this will affect our service in Sag Harbor, and what it’s going to cost us.”
Packets of information, including proposals from the Southampton Police Department, the East Hampton Town Police Department, and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, as well as retirement system projections and financials for the current village police force, were made available to all in attendance.
Chief Fabiano took the podium to speak of the recent hurricane and to give credit where it was due. “I saw many things,” he said, “and it boggles my mind that the village could think about reducing the force or bringing someone to take over after what we have been through.” The chief thanked the emergency management team and members of the fire department’s ladies auxiliary, who volunteered for 24 hours until the emergency shelter he had opened was cleared.
He also thanked Peter Garypie, chief of the fire department, and department volunteers who “worked all night long going house-to-house evacuating people,” and the ambulance crew. Finally, he thanked his police officers, who he said worked around the clock, leaving their families who had no electricity. “They don’t all live in the village,” he said, “because they can’t afford it.”
Of a proposal to reduce the size of the department, he said, “We already lost one great officer, Officer Gigante . . . we spent a lot of money training him, now we lost him. I truly don’t want to see anyone else going. . . . Taking one out really put a strain on the schedule . . . I have tried less, it doesn’t work.”
There is sick time, vacation time, and so forth that must be taken into account during police scheduling, he explained, calling it “a safety issue.”
“We have a budget for 2013, we passed it, everyone was happy with it,” said the chief. “I hope the board will re-evaluate it and come up with a better conclusion.”
Chief Fabiano expressed serious doubt about the ability of either Southampton or the county to take on the additional coverage. Of Southampton, he said, “their chief just resigned, they’re having problems now, they can’t cover their own areas.”
He said he couldn’t understand the proposal that the Sheriff’s Office police half the village. He said he and a sheriff had discussed it and neither could understand how scheduling would work or who would be in charge.
Mr. Milazzo said it might be a legal issue, with regard to “exclusivity.” He added that the numbers in the proposals seemed unrealistically low, knowing that the other departments get “more medical, benefits, retirement, more everything.” For short-term cost savings, you will end up paying down the line,” he said.
“The village is one-point-eight square miles, with a chief and 12 officers,” said Mayor Gilbride, with a 14-percent increase in medical expenses for village employees. “The Village of Sag Harbor doesn’t have the growth,” he said. He’d thought the village would have substantial income from the Bulova Watchcase Factory, but it turned out that condominiums use a different formula, and revenue will not be what had been expected. “It will drop 60 percent over a three-year period,” he said.
Of Officer Gigante’s resignation, the mayor said, “I didn’t want to see Mike leave. It has to be.” He acknowledged that Southampton “has its issues,” but said there had been a “great discussion with the Town of East Hampton.”
The mayor said the increase in retirement pay for village employees this year totaled $40,000 for the police department and roughly $60,000 for 30 to 40 others in non-police unions.
“I don’t want to see the sheriffs come in and take over,” he said. “I don’t want to see [the department] abolished, because it would be difficult to get it back.” But, he said, “I don’t think we need two people” on some of the shifts.
“One day you might not, but another day, you might,” replied Chief Fabiano. “You cannot reduce the size of the department and expect it to work.” For example, he said, an officer might arrest someone and bring them back to headquarters, leaving no one to cover. “Don’t reduce manpower,” the chief said. “It is most important.”
“Economics are based on the ambience of the Village of Sag Harbor,” said Nada Barry, who has known Chief Fabiano since he was a child. “The police create a lot of that . . . it is not always about dollars and cents.”
Pierce Hanse, a former village mayor, expressed concerns about the accuracy of the information disseminated, and accused the mayor of misleading the public.
“Government does not function correctly without good police . . . diluting creates a loss on our end, and their end,” said Larry Darcy, who said he spent 30 years in law enforcement. He added that more people are attracted to Sag Harbor every year. “That makes Tom’s job tougher,” he said.
Asked about time frame, the mayor said a resolution was expected by May or June.
Tim Culver, a former trustee whose chair remains empty, gave the board credit for exploring options. Long-term, he said expenses must be considered. “It is a massive amount of information,” he said, “See it, read it, make decisions.”
“Nobody wants to fire anyone, nobody wants the police department to go,” said Robby Stein, a trustee, but “something needs sacrificing.” The village is taking responsibility for Long Wharf from the county, and Mr. Stein said there were storm issues, infrastructure issues, and bulkheads needing repair. Ideally, he said, Sag Harbor would also have more parks, and “IT development,” all growing budget issues.
“Police is 38 percent of our budget,” Mr. Stein said, “That’s a lot.” He added, speaking of his recent bicycle accident, that “my life was probably saved by one of the policemen two months ago . . . Another 10 minutes, I don’t know. Big village issues, small budget.”
In other department reports, Mayor Gilbride said the village, using generator power, had to rid itself of 8 million gallons of water over three days, due to the flooding of West Water Street. Two hundred tons of sand were placed near the windmill on Long Wharf, he added, to protect it from the rising waters. He noted “major damage to transient docks and Long Wharf due to storm.”
The volunteer ambulance corps was also on the agenda. The corps donated an ambulance to a Jamaica Bay Fire Department that lost its entire fleet to flooding. Ed Downes, the president of the ambulance corps, and Chief Fabiano brought it UpIsland, filled with food, warm clothing, blankets, bleach, cleaning supplies, and toiletries collected from local residents.
The ambulance, which was recently retired from service, was signed over to the Broad Channel Fire Department along with donations of about $1,200. In order to pay for their new ambulance, the Sag Harbor volunteers collected money from the community over five years. Fire departments like to replace their ambulance every five years, Mr. Downes explained; a new one costs about $209,000. A week or so before the hurricane it had been decided to put the old ambulance out to bid; then came news of Broad Channel’s extreme loss.
Trustee Edward Gregory thanked the community for its generous donations for the new ambulance. The audience applauded.