Triggered by an ongoing stalemate with the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association after mediation failed to arrive at a new contract and facing a state cap on increases in taxes, questions have continued to hover around the Sag Harbor Village Board about whether it would be financially prudent to disband the Police Department or whether it should enter into an inter-municipal agreement with another policing agency, allowing the village to retain the department but reduce its size.
On Tuesday, at a meeting of the board, Mayor Brian Gilbride reported that he had spoken with Anna Throne-Holst, Southampton Town’s supervisor, and the Suffolk Sheriff’s Department about whether their departments could help cover the village. The Town of East Hampton had also called requesting information, he said.
“At this point, I have to know from the board, do I continue going down this road looking at this?” the mayor asked. Behind closed doors, he and Beth Kamper, the village clerk, have been crunching numbers to find out exactly what each officer costs.
“I continue to not want to go down this road,” Mayor Gilbride said, “but these costs are getting to a point we have to take a hard look. . . . With a 2 percent tax cap, there is not a lot of money to play with.”
When Kevin Duchemin, the board’s newest elected member, who is a sergeant with the East Hampton Village Police Department, said he “would like to see one more meeting with the P.B.A. to hammer out this agreement,” the mayor replied, “We can do both.”
Timothy Culver, a member of the board, said the issue ran deeper, however. “What is the right answer for the village? Is the P.B.A. contract the most efficient way to allocate the funds?”
William Wilson, the Southampton Town police chief, and County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco are each willing to send up to two cars, 365 days a year, the mayor said, to police the village. He said he had had “a very good discussion,” and thought an inter-municipal agreement made sense “when you look at the numbers.”
Robert Bori, the Sag Harbor harbormaster, entered the discussion later in the meeting. “You speak of two cars. Is that going to be in writing? If there is a heavy accident, are we still going to have the protection?”
“As a former police officer, you have better insight than others,” Mayor Gilbride responded. “If something happened in Bridgehampton or Sagaponack, [Southampton] cars would be shipped out,” but with the Sheriff’s Department “that’s not the case,” he said. He had been assured, he said, that the sheriff’s personnel would be willing to walk the sidewalks and get to know the people.
That the board was concerned about money rather than performance was clear during the meeting. Edward Gregory, a trustee, said, “It’s not personal. They’re very good. They do an excellent job.”
As for the mayor, he said he “praised the officers time and time again.” But, he said, “I don’t think any of them will be without work for long” if the village lost “six or seven people. We keep the ability to have our own Police Department, and see,” he said.
He added that the department’s chief, Tom Fabiano, “does an excellent job. Without Tom, we would have had this problem sooner.”
Chief Fabiano also had something to say before the meeting was over. He approached the microphone in an out-of-character, somber tone. “With regard to the other departments being talked to,” he said, “I believe they have problems; they can’t cover their own areas.” He continued: “We have provided a great service . . . over 35 years.” He noted that he had been in the department through “a lot of mayors and a lot of trustees. When times were hard, it’s always, let’s get rid of these guys.” While agreeing that money had to be a concern, he said, “I look at that every time I buy a sign or a pencil. . . . It really hurts me to see that you’re doing this.”
“Do you honestly believe that they can give you the quality of the service we are giving you?” the chief asked. He asked the board to wait and see the results of the impending arbitration. There was no response from the board.
“It really hurts me to see this whole Police Department be abolished. We are doing far more than we did 15 years ago; our own court system, we’re making revenue here.” Then he added, “It’s disheartening after 35 years.” Walking away, with his head down, he repeated softly, “Thirty-five years.”