The Southampton Town Board on Tuesday evening approved an inter-municipal agreement proposal with Sagaponack Village that the town believes will head off the village’s move toward forming its own police department, saving the town the potential loss of millions in tax revenues that the village now pays it for police coverage.
The agreement that is being pitched to Sagaponack officials, according to Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, would assign a Town Police officer to patrolling Sagaponack’s 4 square miles of roads for 16 hours each day, 12 months a year. The resolution was approved by a unanimous vote.
Village lawmakers say they still intend to vote on whether to form their own department this Monday, September 16. If they reject the proposal, officials could introduce a new resolution stating that they would agree to the town’s inter-municipal agreement, though a vote on it might not happen the same day.
Village leaders were cautiously optimistic about the town’s offer when reached after Tuesday’s meeting.
“It seems they are attempting to give us what our main concerns were,” said Trustee Bill Barbour, who had been a supporter of the village forming its own police department. “We had all our ducks in a row for our own department … [but] I think this helps us get the coverage we feel we deserve from the town.”
Mayor Don Louchheim was noncommittal about his own stance on the village still forming its own police force when reached on Wednesday morning, adding that the board will vote on the resolution as planned on Monday. He said the fact that the town quickly and unanimously approved the proposed agreement will weigh in the decision by him and his fellow board members.
“We welcome the fact that the town did finally agree on the language of an offer,” Mr. Louchheim said.
At a special meeting of the Sagaponack Village Board on Saturday morning, at least three of the five board members seemed firmly in favor of forming a village police department, citing improvements in residents’ safety, reduction of nuisances and speeding on village streets, and the potential tax savings.
“What we need here in Sagg, as far as I’m concerned, is a community police force,” said Mr. Barbour, himself a retired Southampton Town Police officer. “We need response time, we need visibility … and we need accountability. Just because I live in Sagaponack doesn’t mean I’m willing to wait an hour for the police to come.”
Mayor Louchheim, nonetheless, said there were “serious reservations” about forming a department on the part of some board members. But, he also said he and, he believes, most village residents are in favor of the village doing something to expand its police coverage. Mr. Louchheim personally said he would like to see 24-hour police presence in the village.
“I would like to have coverage 24/7 … and I think that’s the straw that will break the camel’s back,” Mr. Louchheim, the former publisher of The Press, told a standing-room-only crowd, which included Ms. Throne-Holst, in Sagaponack Village Hall on Saturday morning. “What we’re discussing with the town now is 16 hours, 8 a.m. to midnight. After that, we become covered by the Bridgehampton [sector]. In the summer months, we would have an officer assigned around the clock.”
On Tuesday, Ms. Throne-Holst said the agreement offered to the village on Monday does not assign an officer exclusively to the village 24 hours a day. Rather, from midnight until 8 a.m. daily, the village will be covered by a sector car that will be patrolling the neighboring hamlets of Bridgehampton and Water Mill as well, but it will spend equal time in Sagaponack as in those other areas.
For the last two years, the town has assigned an officer to patrol the village streets from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The village has been part of the sector patrol for the other nine months.
In an interview last week, Mr. Louchheim had said that the board’s main concern was having year-round dedicated police patrols between 8 a.m. and midnight, when speeding and nuisance issues like noise complaints are most common.
Ms. Throne-Holst said she thought the village’s leaders would see the sense in the arrangement offered by the town.
“I think they can see that it is far better for them to have the town provide a cadre of part-time officers than for the village to try to provide a whole force, 15 officers or more, of entirely part-time officers,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “Frankly, that would be impossible to sustain out here, they would have turnover that would be unmanageable.”
Sagaponack residents last year paid some $2.3 million in police district taxes, accounting for about 10 percent of the Southampton Town Police Department’s total budget. If the village were to form its own police department, it could mean cuts to Town Police coverage.
Ms. Throne-Holst said that while the town has not calculated how much it will cost it to dedicate an officer to Sagaponack 16 hours a day year-round, it was certain to be a “tiny fraction” of the potential loss of $2.3 million in tax revenues. She said the issue of the additional shifts and use of more part-time officers will be part of the town’s ongoing contract negotiations with its police union.
Many Sagaponack residents at Saturday’s meeting were clearly not in favor of the idea of the village forming its own force, though there was widespread agreement that speeding has become an issue. Critics of the proposal said the village was being short-sighted in its cost forecasts for a village police department, which show savings of up to $1 million in each of the first two years of the department’s existence, and also worry about how the village’s withdrawal from the Town Police might affect coverage at its borders.
“We’re not Detroit, we don’t have a real crime problem here. I think the current policing works fairly well,” said Bill Tillotsen, the village’s former mayor, who was decked out in a top hat emblazoned with the slogan “No Sagg Cops” on Saturday. “We live in a bigger community. We live in the whole town. I don’t want to see money come out of the town budget that might someday make the parking lot at the King Kullen or hiking in the pine barrens unsafe.”
Hedges Lane resident Steve Gutman offered a similar comparison: “We pay taxes to the Hampton Library that I suspect are disproportionate to the number of books we lend, or the number of children we send,” he said. “We all shop at the King Kullen, we use all aspects of this community.”
Others said the costs were too foggy down the road, and the need too remote, to justify the risks of establishing a police department.
“I don’t want to see a policeman on every corner in Sagaponack—there are no issues here,” David Schoenthal said. “I don’t think all the costs have been fully thought out … I’ve seen other municipalities where costs balloon out of control. Someone gets sick, you have replacement, there’s so many unexpected things that can go wrong that can only make costs go up.”
The Village Board has presented mock budgets for the creation of a police department under three different scenarios: a skeleton department that provides its officers only during the day and relies on contractually supplemented coverage the rest of the time; a department of part-time officers who cover all three shifts each day, year-round; and a department staffed with between four and six full-time officers. At a minimum the village would have to hire a chief, budgeted at $35,000 per annum, and at least two part-time officers. The village hired former Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr. as a consultant to help draft the budgets.
Additionally, the mayor announced to the crowd on Saturday that if the village does decide to create its own police department it would also seek to create a village justice court, though he did not discuss what the budget implications of a court would be.
The board has said it will cast a final vote on formation of a police force at its next meeting on Monday, September 16. The village imposed the deadline so as to be fair to the town, which might have to draft its 2014 budget without some or all of the $2.3 million in taxes that Sagaponack residents contribute to the town’s police district funding if the village opts to form its own force.
A smattering of residents offered support Saturday for the village forming its own police department.
“The speeding issue is terrible,” Tinka Topping said. “It’s lethal. The kind of speeding around Daniel’s and Gibson [lanes] is scary. There’s an accident waiting to happen, so we do need to deal with that.”