MAYVILLE - Budget constraints are indeed a significant obstacle for local first responders, many of whom not only risk their lives on a daily basis, but deal with a rampant and ever-increasing drug epidemic.
On Friday, U.S. Congressman Tom Reed, in an effort to address these issues and receive input from those on the front lines, held a "First Responders Advisory Board" at the Chautauqua Municipal Building in Mayville.
Representatives from the Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Steuben County sheriff's departments, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus County emergency services, local fire and police departments (Dunkirk, Jamestown, Hornell, Salamanca, Lakewood-Busti), New York State Police and SUNY Fredonia Public Safety were in attendance.
"It's important to listen to the folks on the front line," Reed said. "Let them identify what the priorities and needs are, and then we'll try to fill that need based on the input, rather than Washington, D.C. saying this is what we think you need."
Notable topics discussed included the prevalence of drug-related crimes, and how insufficient funds are essentially limiting the scale of drug investigation efforts.
Manpower cuts, such as the gutting of the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force, were of particular concern.
According to Harry Snellings and David Ortolano, chiefs of police at the Jamestown and Dunkirk police departments respectively, drug money seizures are not helping police budgets, with over half of every dollar seized being given to the state and the district attorney's office.
"Several months ago, we had a drug house where we seized about $6,000," Ortolano said. "We did all the work ... it's our manpower, it's me bringing in my (Special Response Team) to knock the door down ... it takes a lot to run these operations. When you realize you're only going to get 30 percent of (the $6,000) and everyone else is getting the lion's share of it, it doesn't leave a good taste (in our mouth) when we have to bring the equipment, the manpower and everything it takes to run these operations."
Equipment and resources being distributed more toward urban areas was another point of contention for both police and fire officials. Reed described it as rural areas receiving the "short end of the stick."
"There was a lot of indication that what (everyone) received here was nice, but it wasn't what they needed," Reed said. "What that tells me is we need to do a better job at the federal (level) in doing more of these types of round tables, requiring folks to come together on a regional, coordinated basis and tell the federal government what's needed."
Reed added that cutting bureaucracy and spending federal taxpayer money more effectively and efficiently are two of his top priorities in ensuring first responders are properly equipped to do their jobs safely.
"As we go through the appropriations process, we're going to take some of the ideas I got here today and look at how we're going to score and prioritize our federal taxpayer dollars in a way that says we're going to listen to the people on the front line, get their input, and when it makes sense, give them a little extra push," Reed said.