OSWEGO, NY – Legislators kicked into budgetary high gear Thursday night debating the number of new vehicles the Sheriff’s Department should be allowed to purchase for 2015.
The sheriff had requested approval for $290,000 to be transferred for the purchase of 10 new vehicles.
For nearly 20 minutes, the financial and safety pros and cons of the request were debated across the aisle.
“Every year we go through this,” Minority Leader Mike Kunzwiler said.
With the uncertainty of the nuclear plants’ assessments, the county needs to be prepared for “a significant” potential loss of revenue, he cautioned.
“We can’t just sit there after it happens and say, ‘Sorry, we didn’t know,’” he said.
This was an opportunity for the county to realize some savings, he said, adding that he proposed to reduce the number of vehicles from 10 to eight.
However, the amendment failed to garner enough support to pass.
Legislator Linda Lockwood pointed out that the sheriff did reduce his request from 12 to 10.
“So, he has made an effort to bring the numbers down,” she said.”
“I applaud Legislator Kunzwiler for bringing it up again; we need to go down to eight,” Legislator Frank Castiglia said. “The obvious reason is that we are looking at increasing taxes for the general public. We got to come down to eight. I know, it’s not easy to do. But, it’s a lot easier than laying people off.”
“This is so much more pressing when we have spiking numbers in (prisoner) transports as we did earlier this year,” Legislator Shawn Doyle pointed out.
“This is where we have to find ways to get leaner and better,” Kunzwiler countered. “It’s not going to get any easier if we keep deferring the decision year in and year out.”
If the legislature doesn’t make the tough decisions now, the budget will get to a point where it dictates rash actions instead of being out in front of it, he added.
“You can’t tell me we can come up with a better plan to get more efficiency out of (county departments). It happens every day in business. When revenues go down, they’re all tasked to make reductions and find ways to make things more efficient,” he said. “We have to do the same thing. We all know we’re not in a great place right now, not knowing where our revenue sources will be next year.”
Other counties around Oswego, in the same predicament, are laying off and making other reductions, he said, adding that Oswego should be doing the same.
From the Oswego County Jail to the steps of the Redfield Courthouse is 50 miles – one way, Majority Leader Terry Wilbur said.
“It’s not a luxury to have this many cars. It’s a necessity,” he said. “We’re all part of a team. We work for 122,000 people in this county. And part of those people are our deputies. They’re on the road. They’re putting their life on the line for us and I don’t want to be the one who’s at fault when something happens to a car (when they are responding to an emergency).”
“I don’t think it’s a luxury, either,” Legislator Amy Tresidder said. “But, last year I was told we can’t go down from 12. Suddenly this year we can go down to 10. So why can’t we go down to eight?”
In the private sector, you wouldn’t be taking just one person at a time, you’d be waiting until you had a full load, Legislator Castiglia said.
“We can make this work. The sheriff can make this work,” Kunzwiler agreed. “We have to make reductions where we can.”
Castiglia is comparing “apples to oranges,” Doyle said.
The town courts’ schedule is such that you can’t wait for a “full load,” certain prisoners need to be at certain courts at various times, he explained.
“None of the court nights are coordinated. It costs the Sheriff’s Office money; it costs the DA’s Office a lot of money. We need video arraignment, we need to advocate for that.”
Legislator Margaret Kastler agreed. She has been advocating for that for years, she said.
They need to get people in Oswego County and other counties to put pressure on the Albany lawmakers to make them understand the amount of money counties have to spend due to the current court arrangement, she said.
“It’s just because the prisoner wants to get out of jail for a couple of hours. It is costing us money – big time!” she said. “We need to start putting some pressure on our state officials. The video arraignment is any easy thing to do and it is cheaper”
“I’m a businessman, I know cars. And, these cars are not unsafe. I would let my family go in them,” Legislator Doug Malone said. “These cars are heavy duty; they have better tires, springs, brakes … These cars are not unsafe. I will support eight. But if it goes back up to 10, I will not support 10.”
The resolution passed, with the vote split along party lines.
County residents will have their chance to weigh in on the proposed 2015 budget at 7 p.m. on Dec. 11 in the Oswego County Legislature Chambers, 46 E. Bridge St., Oswego.