BUSTI - Officials in both Busti and Lakewood agree town residents should pay more for the Lakewood-Busti Police Department
How much more is where negotiations seem to stall between the two sides.
Earlier this month, officials from both municipalities agreed on a one-year contract extension. In the agreement, the town of Busti will pay $20,000 more - for a total of $360,000 - in 2013. In recent years, the annual increase in how much the town pays for police services has usually only increased $10,000.
Lakewood Mayor David Wordelmann
For most of the year, officials from both sides have been negotiating to reach a long-term contract agreement. During the negotiations, officials haven't released any of the figures being discussed until now.
David Wordelmann, Lakewood mayor, said when town residents paid $340,000 in 2012 for police services, it was around 27 percent of the police department's $1.3 million budget. However, the number of calls the Lakewood-Busti Police Department answered in the town, excluding the village, was around 37 percent.
Wordelmann said both sides, at one time, in the negotiations agreed this is what town residents should be paying for the police department.
"Basically, when the whole thing started, both camps came to the conclusion they (Busti) weren't paying their fair share and they (Busti officials) were in agreement with that," he said. "We worked on a deal that over a six-year period of time, they would catch up to the percent of usage for the cost of the department."
That means for Busti residents to "catch up," it would go from paying $340,000 a year in 2012 to $495,000 in 2018. That would be an increase of $155,000 during six years or an increase of $25,800 a year.
"Initially they agreed to it. Once we put it on paper what the exact dollars were, they backed off," Wordelmann said. "Part of it was they just got into their budget for the year. That changed their viewpoint on it. That is when we started going back and forth again to try and reach an agreement."
Jesse Robbins, Busti supervisor, said the reason negotiations slowed down was that too much was unknown on what the costs for police services will be several years from now. He said when the two sides started negotiating they were using the figure of $1.25 million as the cost in 2012 to run the Lakewood-Busti Police Department. However, during the negotiations, the price to run the department jumped in 2013 to $1.325 million. This is an increase of $75,000 or a 6 percent jump.
"We are not expecting something for nothing, but if it keeps going up at that rate there is too much of an unknown," he said. "If the starting figure is $1.325 million and it goes up $75,000 every year, we still haven't caught up by the end of the contract. We need to look at the whole picture and make sure we can afford it down the road."
Robbins said at one point he was given a contract agreement with just percentages and no costs numbers.
"If I agreed to that it would be like me signing a blank check. I need a number to account for," he said.
The town supervisor said John Bentley, Lakewood-Busti Police Department chief, and village officials aren't being frivolous with money. Robbins said he was told the police department's budget typically does not increase $75,000 each year. However, a more fixed number needs to be set before an agreement can be reached.
"They are not spending money foolishly. This is just the cost of doing business in today's age," he said. "If the shoe was on the other foot, I would want paid for the service I provided too. But I need to have more of a sense of what that number will be."
NEGOTIATIONS TO RESTART TO BE POSSIBLE PUBLIC VOTE
Both Robbins and Wordelmann agreed negotiations should start again right away because a long-term agreement needs to be reached. David Wordelmann said an agreement between the two municipalities had to be in place by the first of the year or the Lakewood-Busti Police Department could have seen drastic cuts. This is a situation neither municipal leader wants to duplicate at the end of 2013.
"Jan. 1 was a drop-dead date. If no agreement, the police department basically wouldn't exist," he said. "In interest of not having to lay off a lot of police department employees and avoid a giant mess, I offered a deal of $360,000 to get us past Jan. 1 to not stop police services."
Robbins said the police department does a wonderful job and town residents appreciate the service provided. However, Busti officials need to find out if residents in the town portion are willing to pay more for police services. He said it might call for a public vote of just town residents to decided.
"My idea and Rick Thor's (Busti councilman) ... we should take it to the people who live outside of the village to see if they want police protection and how much they are willing to spend. Ultimately, it is their money," he said. "It is up to the public to decide what they want to do. In all fairness to the taxpayers, we have to do something."