Is the Moriah Police Department a good investment? That’s the question Tim Garrison is asking. The town councilman has initiated a discussion on the future of the agency.
Is the Moriah Police Department a good investment?
That’s the question Tim Garrison is asking. The town councilman has initiated a discussion on the future of the agency.
“We have the (Essex County) sheriff’s department and the state police, do we need the Moriah Police Department?” Garrison asked. “We’re spending $100,000 a year on the police. Is that money being well spent?”
Garrison believes Moriah’s two-man police force does a good job, but wonders if it’s limitations make the taxpayer investment worthwhile.
“There are 168 hours in a week,” Garrison said. “We have 80 hours of police coverage. That’s less than half the time that we have police available.”
Garrison hopes Moriah residents will discuss the merits of the local police department and make their feelings known to the town board.
“This is not a decision for the town board,” Garrison said of the department’s future. “People need to tell us what they want.”
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava supports the Moriah Police Department.
“Our police are incredibly busy and do a great job,” Scozzafava said. “There’s a lot the public doesn’t see. They prevent a lot of problems from arising.
“Our department is stretched thin, but so are the state police,” he added. “I’ve spoken to Capt. (John) Tibbitts and he’s told me the state police wouldn’t be able to pick up the slack if there was no Moriah police. If anything, a community our size needs more police protection, not less.”
Tibbitts is the New York State Police Zone 3 captain.
The Moriah Police Department answered 194 calls during the month of July, reported Steve Stahl, Moriah officer-in-charge.
“For a two-man department we’re very busy,” Stahl said. “Not all the calls relate to crimes, but they’re all calls they need to be handled. We get requests from other police agencies looking for information, from people with questions, from residents who want us to look at their home when they’re away. You name it and we handle it.”
Moriah’s other officer is Art Brassard.
Moriah is one of four municipal police departments in the county. The others are in Ticonderoga, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
“We try to be as visible as we can be,” Stahl said. “I don’t know how you measure crimes prevented, but I’m certain our presence means a lot in the community.”
Being a local department with local officers is important, too, Stahl said.
“We grew up here; we know the people here,” he said. “It’s sometimes easier for us to diffuse a situation because we know the people involved. We’re also a valuable resource for state police when they come into town because we know where to go, who to see.”
The Moriah PD also provides traffic control and security at public events, like high school football games, the annual Labor Day celebration, Champ Day and more.
Stahl believes the majority of Moriah residents want to retain the local police department.
“I think the residents of Moriah support the police department,” he said. “Nobody wants to see the police until they need them; then they want them there yesterday.”
At one time there were two police departments in the community. Moriah and the village of Port Henry combined their departments in 1990. At that time the new department had five full-time and one part-time patrolmen. Because of budget limitations the Moriah PD now has two full-time officers.
Garrison believes the money saved by eliminating the police department could be used in better ways. He suggested using half the money to improve town roads and half to hire a town manager.
“We have spent the last 30 years holding the line in this town and we have not done much looking at or planning for the future or economic growth,” he said. “Something needs to change. What we’re doing now isn’t working.”
Scozzafava doesn’t see the need for increase road spending or a town manager. He pointed out the vast majority of roads in the town are the responsibility of the state and county. A town manager’s duties would be limited by the state constitution.
“This isn’t Vermont; we have a different form of government here,” Scozzafava said. “A supervisor’s duties are outlined by state law. I have to do the work outlined by the state constitution. That doesn’t leave much for a town manager. What would a town manager do? It would just be another layer of bureaucracy.”
Scozzafava agreed with Garrison that the future of the Moriah Police Department should not and will not be determined by the town board. If the community expresses interest in eliminating the department, he said, it will go to a public referendum.
“These are tough decisions,” Scozzafava said. Ultimately we have to live within our means and make do with what we have.”