By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The county’s budget woes led to two split votes Thursday, both pertaining to law enforcement.
K-9 officer donated
The loss of Sullivan County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Breihof’s K-9 partner, RC, in June reverberated far and wide even to New Jersey, where a gentleman offered to donate a new canine trainee.
Sheriff Michael Schiff told legislators on Thursday that Breihof had already taken possession of “Zeus” a month and a half ago.
“He’s done the initial evaluation and said the dog is good,” Schiff related.
Breihof was in attendance and said he’ll train the animal to be narcotics-certified and follow in RC’s footsteps (who partnered with Breihof for five years, averaging 50-75 calls per year, often for search-and-rescue).
“I can’t tell you guys how important it is having a K-9 here in the county,” Breihof stressed.
Legislator Gene Benson instantly approved, but others were more cautious.
“My opinion is, let’s go with it,” Benson said several times.
“I’m not going to vote for anything without knowing what the costs are,” countered Legislator Cora Edwards, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.
She wanted a budget summary before voting on a resolution to accept the donation of the dog, valued at $5,000-$7,000.
Legislator Alan Sorensen pointed out that the K-9 officer’s food, vehicle and veterinarian costs plus Breihof’s state-mandated four hours of overtime to care for and train the dog every week are budgeted through the end of this year.
“I think it’s an important aspect of public safety,” he assessed.
But Legislator Kathy LaBuda also pointed out that the costs of any new K-9 officer would have to be factored into future budgets, and thus she joined Edwards in voting against accepting the new dog until the financial implications are made clear.
However, Benson, Sorensen and the other Public Safety Committee member, Legislator Ira Steingart, voted in favor, so the matter will now go before the full Legislature on September 20.
ADAs’ pay increases, decreases
During the Personnel Committee meeting Thursday, Legislator Kitty Vetter was the sole “no” vote on a resolution to adjust the salaries of three assistant district attorney positions.
One assistant DA’s salary is proposed to be increased by $5,200, from $62,700 to $67,900.
“That is not a small chunk of change and is not just for one year,” observed Vetter, who felt the raise inappropriate in a budget crisis.
DA Jim Farrell was at a trial and could not attend to explain.
However, Legislator Ira Steingart pointed out that two other assistant DA positions will see their salaries cut by $5,000 apiece meaning the proposal actually features a total reduction in salaries of $4,800.
“I’m all for the decrease,” Vetter replied. “I have problems with the increase.”
In the end, though, she was outvoted, with Steingart, Benson, LaBuda and Cindy Gieger agreeing to pass it on to the full Legislature on September 20.
Still, she won praise from LaBuda.
“I admire you, because you’re absolutely right in your comments,” LaBuda told Vetter.
So why did she vote “yes”?
“We did it for other people in that office, so I’d be a hypocrite if we didn’t do this,” she explained.
EMS Board ‘on ice’
At the same meeting Thursday, Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic followed up on a letter he had sent legislators last month.
In that letter, Martinkovic had recommended the Legislature approve replacing the EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Advisory Board with meetings of local EMS captains, which have already been happening via EMS Coordinator Greg Tavormina.
“These meetings are more casual yet professional, have been well-attended, and the feedback from the EMS captains has been positive,” he explained.
Martinkovic also wrote that the advisory board which meets to discuss policies, procedures and local/regional EMS issues has recently had difficulty in obtaining enough attendees to reach the quorum necessary to formally do business.
So this idea, he told legislators Thursday, would “kind of put the EMS [Advisory] Board on ice for a while and see how this works out.”
Legislators on the committee informally agreed to do so, with the next captains meeting scheduled for Wednesday, October 3 at 7 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
“Everyone is invited and welcome,” said Edwards.
From 9 to 7
Legislators at Thursday’s Public Safety Committee meeting unanimously agreed to reduce the Law Enforcement Review Panel’s membership from nine to seven.
Though no reason was formally given, legislators privately acknowledged difficulty in hitting the nine-member mark and decided to go with the seven already-confirmed volunteers.
The panel is now convening to review local police and DA services and make recommendations later this year to the Legislature.