CATTARAUGUS - Without any further action by village residents, the Cattaraugus Police Department will cease to exist in the coming weeks.
Frustration resulting from an Aug. 11 meeting of the Cattaraugus Village Board spilled over, and within days a petition had been drawn up, aimed at overturning the newly passed law.
In fact, the law itself provided this relief in its Section 6: "In accordance with the provisions of Village Law, 8-800 and 9-902 and other applicable provisions of law, this local law is subject to permissive referendum. - (It) shall not become operative or effective until filed with the Secretary of State and unless or until thirty days have elapsed after its adoption and no petition protesting against this local law, signed and authenticated as required by law, has been filed with the Village Clerk of the Village of Cattaraugus."
Persons in the village of Cattaraugus who agree with the village board's new law need to do nothing because without action, the law will automatically go into effect 30 days after it was passed. On the other hand, registered voters within the village, who'd prefer to see the law repealed, and the matter brought to a public vote, can look up one of the petitions and add their signatures. All petitions must reach the village clerk before Monday, Sept. 8.
The petitions can be found in various businesses around the village, or you can contact resident Tom Patterson at 374-0348, for more information.
"I think it's very important that the petitions be filled out exactly as indicated," Patterson said. "And only registered voters can sign them."
During the Aug. 11 meeting of the Cattaraugus Village Board, Mayor Eric Pritchard divulged the fact that he and his board intended to eradicate the village police department.
"We've been discussing this for quite some time," Pritchard said.
Since public attendance was much larger than usual, it seemed possible that word of the board's plan might have leaked out.
Most of the residents in attendance questioned the board's decision. One argued that it had been done too arbitrarily. Many felt that the possible outcomes were far too consequential to be decided by only three people, the three trustees in attendance being John Bronneberg, Nicki Bradley and Walter Gunther.
Ensuing discussion became heated, especially after the mayor, who also serves on the Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School board revealed that he and the village board planned to divert the village's police department budget (approximately $49,000) into funding for a school resource officer.
After Patterson asked to hear from the trustees individually, Bradley said, "with me it's a personal thing. I'm for it because I have a son going into first grade. Having an SRO in the building would make me feel safer."
The other two trustees waited awhile before stating their support, but eventually Gunther said, "I feel it's the fiscally responsible thing to do."
Bronneberg was outspoken in his feelings about the local police.
"For the first few years after I came to this town, I didn't even know it had a police department," he said. "All they do is sit down at the end of town."
"Making decisions like this is what we were elected to do," said Pritchard, who was re-elected in 2013 with a slightly higher number of votes than the number of residents present at the meeting.
"I feel bad I had to hear about this tonight at this meeting. We thought we were doing what the board wanted done," said Michael McCarthy, police officer in charge. "There's been no communication at all with us. I had no idea this was coming up tonight."
Evidently Pritchard, one of whose duties is to act as commissioner of police in the absence of a captain, had not mentioned the plan to his officer in charge.
"With the economy the way it is, with people struggling, we must try to use our resources as effectively as possible," Pritchard said.
"Why did you spend $2,000 or so on taser equipment and training if you were planning all along to abolish the department?" asked resident Duane Opferbeck.
"I came just to listen, but I have to say, I'd hate to see our police department go away," said resident Larry Barr.
"I was a victim of a crime, and I appreciate the quick action of our local police in coming to my aid," said resident Linda Johnson.
None of the protestors voiced any opposition to the actual hiring of an SRO by the school. But they roundly objected to the way in which the village board proposed funding it. It was pointed out that children attend C-LVCS from quite a number of outlying villages, hamlets and townships. "Cattaraugus residents already willingly support the school with their school taxes," said one resident. "But this way, we in the village would be paying twice."
"I'm here to support the police," said resident Tom Mormile. "But why can't we run a cost/benefit analysis of the plan? And why can't it be put to a vote."
"There'll be a contract between the school, the village and the county," Pritchard explained. "But we can't do the SRO plan without eliminating the police department. My point is, we have the money to do what we want to do."
He also said the state was talking of distributing $1.9 million statewide to help NYS schools hire SROs.
That comment brought some laughter from the gallery, causing Pritchard to respond, "You hear what you want to hear. We'll move on now."
Despite objections from the floor, the matter was put aside. Later that evening, after the agenda had been cleared, an executive session held, and with most of the visitors gone home, the board returned to the issue. They quickly passed Local Law #1-2014 to abolish the village police department by a 3-0 vote.
A few minutes later, at 10:01, the meeting was adjourned, and the matter appeared resolved.
It was not, and now residents are being asked for signatures on a petition to overturn the decision.
If the petitions fail, the Village of Cattaraugus Police Department will cease to exist as of Sept. 10.