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Dan Hust | Democrat

Robert Cintron, a former NYC cop, left, and David Seigerman, speaking as a Rock Hill resident but also serving as SCCC security chief, right, both spoke of the importance of keeping the Sheriff's Department from suffering personnel cuts.

‘Don’t cut public safety’

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — October 12, 2010 — Legislator and Public Safety Committee Chair Leni Binder promised the County Legislature won’t compromise public safety, but at Thursday’s unusually well-attended committee meeting, legislators were clearly warned not to touch the Sheriff’s Office.
Nearly half a dozen speakers told county leaders that the rumored layoff of 15 deputies would be unacceptable, even in the face of a $12 million deficit the county is trying to overcome as it plans its 2011 budget.
“The safety of citizens, protection of property, and maintaining good public order should always rank on the top of any government’s ‘to-do’ list,” Rock Hill resident Robert Cintron remarked to the audience.
A former NYPD officer, Cintron said he’s impressed with the Sheriff’s Office’s prompt, professional service to the community, going beyond just arrests and patrols to following up on leads, conducting investigations and hunting down wanted suspects.
Noting violent crime is on the rise, he insisted that locals “deserve the first-class police protection that our sheriff and his deputies provide for us without interference from politicians who don’t know a thing about being a cop and having the responsibility of putting their lives on the line for total strangers.”
Fellow Rock Hill resident David Seigerman, who heads security at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake and works closely with patrolling deputies, didn’t blame legislators, noting the difficult financial picture ahead.
But if police officers are cut, it would be “the ultimate last straw,” and Seigerman indicated he and his family would probably move to Orange County.
“If this cut goes through, we’re not going to go to Wal-Mart [in Monticello] at night,” he vowed.
“Taxes are one thing,” Seigerman concluded. “... Compromising our police protection is ultimately the worst thing to do.”
“I don’t think the issue is whether you spend more or less,” said former Deputy Keith Molinari. “I think it’s where you spend and where you cut. ... Any cuts to the Sheriff’s Office at this point is detrimental to this county.”
The entire Town of Mamakating, in the form of Councilman Bob Justus, brought its concerns to the Legislature, as well.
“We want to see the Sheriff’s Office maintained,” he remarked.
“You’re preaching to the converted,” Binder replied to the speakers. “... We see you, we hear you.”
But no legislator made a specific commitment.
“We have a lot of issues here,” explained Binder. “We do not have answers yet.”
County Manager David Fanslau, however, had one. Frustrated with a rumor he claimed had no basis in fact, he told an earlier meeting of the Personnel Committee that cuts are being considered across county government but that no substantive discussions have yet been held.
“No significant cut in law enforcement has been determined,” he said.
But he, too, would not rule out the possibility, noting that retiree health benefits, pension costs and ever-growing unfunded state mandates pose huge difficulties for the county’s fiscal future.
“The county government has no control over 76-85 percent of its budget,” Fanslau explained, “and that is what is driving the cost.”
Sheriff Michael Schiff did not get into the debate, noting only that he’ll work with county leaders to avoid harmful cuts.
But a press release issued on the day of the meeting by Sullivan County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) President Ed Simon indicated Schiff is already working on trimming his office’s budget without requiring the layoff of patrol deputies.
The PBA hopes that the office may even be expanded.
“The current Sheriff’s Patrol budget is just 2.5 percent of the entire county budget,” Simon wrote. “When you look at the other three municipalities in the county that have full-time police departments, you will see that those agencies average 20 percent of their municipal budgets.
“Obviously, they place a higher value on their citizens’ safety.”

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