County budget under fire

Sheriff warns night patrol will be casualty of budget cuts

In a Friday morning fax from the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Roger Leclaire warned that the cuts he was being told to make to his budget would force the elimination of the nighttime road patrol in the county beginning in 2009. 

“I was asked by the Washington County Board of Supervisors to reduce my road patrol budget by $256,375.

I have reduced my 2009 budget by this amount and unfortunately for the people of Washington County this means the elimination of our night patrol and a reduction in our road patrol force starting in 2009,” Leclaire said, in part, in the fax.

The message said police presence at events such as the Washington County Fair would also have to end along with other night patrol activities such as checking business property and assisting with accidents and emergencies.

The $256,375 figure comes after the county finance committee asked the sheriff to reduce his budget by an additional $150,000.

After seeing that fax, Granville Supervisor Rodger Hurley said he thought the statement was a way for Leclaire to avoid taking a closer look for other cost-cutting moves within his budget.

“The Board of Supervisors, under the law, cannot direct the sheriff as to how he will run his department. We have the authority, however, to establish his budget so the reductions we seek in the budget will be made – we do not believe that it is necessary to eliminate the night patrol, and I think that it is a scare tactic to avoid looking deeper at his budget,” Hurley said.

Hurley said he expected the sheriff to continue to try to pare down his budget through other means because the elimination of the patrol was not his only option.

“My expectation is that he would look at those areas and come up with other ideas,” Hurley said. 

“We (the board) are not supportive of eliminating the road patrol; we do support elimination of other costs,” Hurley said. 

Residents should come out to the budget meetings being held around the county to find out what has been done to control any tax increases and ask questions about other options for further reductions in the budget.

Hurley said he still had no idea what would take place at the meetings, but stressed he thought concerned residents should do their best to attend either the 2 p.m. or 7 p.m. meeting at the American Legion Post on Columbus Street.

Hurley said he had also not been consulted about the meeting site, preferring it be held at the town hall, where there would be more space.

Hurley offered no comment when asked if he thought he should have been better informed as to the details of the budget meetings around the county.

The meetings began Nov. 6 and continue through Nov. 13 in Fort Edward, Whitehall, Granville, Greenwich and Salem.

The supervisor said he thought the budget officer should provide leadership in this instance and continue to do whatever was necessary to bring the budget under control, including taking input from the public at the forums.

Hurley said he did not know what prompted the announcement of the meetings, but he was supportive of their use in structuring the budget.

“I believe that meetings like this should be an essential part of the budget process each year,” Hurley said.

Although the budget increase had been brought down to 8 percent from what had been estimated to be anywhere from a 12- to 24-percent increase, Hurley said eight was still an increase. It is possible to bring it down even further, he said.

“We still have time to take input from the public and make adjustments,” Hurley said. “I’ve been seeking a goal of 3 percent since January and I hope we can get it there; I continue to believe it is an achievable goal.

“I’m hopeful that the budget officer will provide leadership to put forth a budget with the lowest possible increase.”

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