The Village of Sagaponack has stepped up consideration of a plan to create its own police department and now has a mock budget for one drawn up by former Southampton Village and Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson.
Since learning that it will not be possible to negotiate a modified coverage agreement with either Southampton Town Police or another municipality, village officials must decide whether forming their own police department is feasible or cost-effective compared to staying under the umbrella of the Southampton Town Police.
Sagaponack now pays more than $2 million per year in taxes to the town for police coverage.
Last month, the village was presented with a mock budget—a catalog of must-haves and associated costs—for creating its own department by Mr. Wilson. Village officials would not say what the mock budget’s total was. The former chief has been working with the village for several months as it examines the possibility of forming its own department, continuing discussions he had begun with them while chief in Southampton Village and had tried to head off while chief in the town.
This week, he acknowledged that if the village were to form a police department, he would be interested in being Sagaponack’s first chief of police.
Sagaponack Village Mayor Don Louchheim said this week that the Village Board has not decided that forming its own police force is the wisest or cheapest alternative to its current coverage arrangement with the Southampton Town Police. If such a decision is made, he said, the proposal would have to be the subject of considerable public discussions and debate.
“We are considering, and have been considering for the past three years, some alternative to our current arrangement with the Southampton Town Police,” Mr. Louchheim said. “Our explorations have gathered some momentum in the last six weeks or so, but it’s only because the option of being able to negotiate coverage with another municipality without forming our own department was ruled out.”
The village’s residents currently pay some $2.2 million in property taxes each year to the town police district, based on the townwide tax levy on property assessments. Sagaponack lawmakers have been saying, nearly since the village was incorporated in 2005, that the costs cannot be justified by the police coverage the village receives from the town.
In recent years, the village had begun exploring options that would free it from its disproportionate tax burden to the town. Last year, the town created a village constable position in its civil service rolls, but it has yet to staff the post.
After months of inquiries, the mayor said, the village was told earlier this year that state law precluded Sagaponack from entering a police coverage agreement with any other municipality’s police force or from negotiating a modification to their own coverage level with the Southampton Town Police, unless it forms its own police department.
The village did seek legislative help from Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who drafted a bill that would have allowed the village to negotiate with Southampton for an amended coverage agreement, or with East Hampton Town Police for a new coverage agreement.
However, state law requires that all local municipalities issue a “home rule message,” effectively saying it is okay for the state to change laws that affect them, before such a bill can be introduced. Neither of the two towns was willing to issue such a message, Mr. Thiele said, so the bill could not be moved forward.
The village could form its own department and then enter into a coverage agreement with another municipality to provide additional coverage, such as to cover overnight hours or to investigate complicated cases that require detectives. Presumably, the village would also contract out for dispatching services, the mayor said.
Mr. Louchheim noted that Mr. Wilson had been asked by another member of the board if he would be interested in being police chief in Sagaponack if the position became a reality, though he did not recall what the former chief’s reply was.
On Tuesday, Mr. Wilson said, “I would give it serious consideration. I don’t know what direction they are going in yet. They are still just looking for information, doing their due diligence about what their options are.”
State law requires that a new municipal police department include at least a chief of police and two officers, though Mr. Louchheim said it was still not clear whether those three positions would have to be full-time and year-round, or not. Mr. Wilson also said he was uncertain what the minimums of such staffing are.
Early in Sagaponack’s discussions of creating its own police force, then-Southampton Village Police Chief Wilson came to the Sagaponack Village Board and offered to work on a coverage agreement between his police force and the fledgling village—an agreement that Mayor Louchheim said the village was only finally informed was not possible in the last few months.
A year later, Mr. Wilson left the village to become chief of the Town Police, and during his tenure he coordinated an agreement between that department and Sagaponack to have a police officer dedicated to Sagaponack during the busy summer months.
Village officials have been pleased with that arrangement, but have continued to blanch at the high cost of police coverage their residents pay.
“I doubt there is any desire by any member of the board to pull out of the Southampton police district,” the mayor said. “But given the constraints we are under and the amount of money we are paying, we may have no choice.”