Residents voice opinions, offer suggestions for 2009 county budget

Discussion of the tentative 2009 Washington County budget became heated Nov. 12 as some Granville residents questioned a supervisor’s intensions towards the sheriff’s patrol.

The supervisor under fire was not Gayle Hall, Fort Ann Supervisor and Washington County Budget Officer, but Granville Supervisor Rodger Hurley.

Hall appeared at the American Legion Post on Columbus Street in Granville as a part of her tour around the county.

Hall said she had been explaining the budget and the work that had gone into creating a draft that features a potential 8 percent tax levy increase.

Many of the residents gathered at the 2 p.m. meeting to voice their opposition to the proposed additional $150,000 in cuts to the Washington County Sheriff’s Department budget.

Deputies and supporters took up one full table at the meeting as they were joined by supporters from the community.

Sheriff Roger Leclaire said previously the additional cuts would result in the loss of the night road patrol in addition to other sheriff’s department activities such as security for the Washington County Fair and other large-scale events.

Hall was spared much of the ire of residents when several questioned if Hurley favored the proposed cut to the Sheriff’s budget, something they emphasized repeatedly would not be a safe move to make.

Former Granville resident and current Washington County Sheriff’s Department PBA President Bryn Reynolds asked Hurley if it was correct that he said he favored cutting the road patrol when quoted in a Sentinel article in September.

Hurley said he does not and did not favor the elimination of the road patrol as a cost-savings measure.

When asked by Reynolds what else might be cut from a budget already hard-hit from cuts, Hurley said he did not know the Sheriff’s budget as well as the Sheriff did.

“He manages his department, we gave him a figure without stipulation,” he said.

By law, Hurley said, the supervisors could not tell the sheriff how to spend his budget.

Hurley said he felt the announcement by Sheriff Leclaire regarding the elimination of the patrol as a result of the additional cut was a “scare tactic” to avoid taking a closer look at his budget.

Hall said she does not support the cuts to the sheriff.

“That’s the recommendation (of finance) – you know how I’ll be voting,” she said.

Reynolds said the cost per taxpayer for keeping the patrol amounted to little more than $1.20 per taxpayer with a $100,000 assessment.

Resident Harry Carroll said he had two grown children who now worked for the county, one as a sheriff’s deputy and another in public health, and he said if police protection was going to cost a little more, he was for it.

“Nickel and dime-ing the sheriff’s department, that’s just a bunch of crap,” Carroll said.

Hall said she met with each department head and reviewed past budgets as a part of the process; she said she found every department head willingly making reductions in their budgets.

Sheriff’s deputy and Granville resident Tim Carroll said he thought the supervisors were going about the process of cutting the budget with a hatchet instead of a scalpel.

Carroll asked a question several other deputies also asked: “Why can’t you look somewhere else?”

Carroll said the department was the frequent target of cuts and thought another department or departments could stand to cut the fat instead.

Many county employees know of places to cut, he said. “We see it, that’s why we’re here,” Carroll said.

Carroll said workers at the county level needed some kind of mechanism to report inefficiency anonymously, rather than bringing it to a supervisor whose job might be the one to target for elimination.

Reynolds said the mileage raise added to supervisor’s pay which amounted to more than $20,000 equated to the difference between keeping a deputy and having to let that deputy go.

“You’re talking people’s jobs here,” Carroll said.

Granville Police Sergeant and part time sheriff’s deputy Dave Williams said he would gladly resign his part time job if it meant the department could keep the full-timer most likely to lose his job.

Williams said that the department was already understaffed.

Citing an FBI standard for police officer to resident ratio, he said, “We should be talking about adding cars instead.” 

Reynolds cautioned that cuts forecast in the State Police force would remove any options for residents when they call 911.

Hall echoed Reynolds, adding that she had spoken with State Police officers who were telling her that they anticipated cuts that would prevent them from being available to back up the sheriff’s during an emergency situation.

Other residents spoke in favor of the cuts not only to the Sheriff’s budget but to other areas of the county budget.

Frequent town and county meeting participant Frank Riegert said he favored the cuts and felt the whole of county government needed to take a serious look, internally, to streamline every process and reduce costs to taxpayers.

Others asked if the county had looked at job sharing, efficiency experts or any other ways to simply keep taxes down. Resident Robert Milanese also said he supported the cuts and said Hurley “has my full support in anything he wants to get done.”

Retired Washington County Judge Philip Berke questioned where the growth in the budget had come from.

When Hall told him, “Everything went up,” Berke said he was not satisfied with that answer.

“So you’re not going to tell me,” he said.

“I just did,” she replied.

Berke also voiced the opinion that as a former judge he felt the move to eliminate the road patrol would be “disastrous and foolish.”

After more than two hours of comments, Hall called an end to the meeting – she had to be back at the Legion Hall in less than three hours for her evening presentation.

As she was leaving the Legion to go and get a bite to eat, Hall said, “Well, I’ve got all of my arms and legs.”

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