LOON LAKE - Although the future prospects of waterborne law enforcement in Warren County have been sinking lately, this week they were thrown a budgetary lifeline.
Warren County Sheriff's Department boat patrols will continue throughout the remainder of 2009, as Warren County supervisors spared the program from funding cuts.
As part of the push to reduce spending and close a looming 2010 budget deficit, supervisors had targeted the program for elimination.
But this week, it was spared the budget axe, at least temporarily.
"We have decided to go ahead and fund the patrol throughout the rest of 2009, but if no more funding is found in 2010 it will be cut," Queensbury Supervisor-at-large William VanNess said June 19.
Warren County Undersheriff Robert Swan said Tuesday that the boat patrol has served as an important deterrent to boating while intoxicated - a deadly but common practice. The patrol also cuts down on reckless piloting, and routinely assists at waterborne accident scenes and in search-and-rescue operations.
In addition, the patrol responded to 181 incidences in which vessels were experiencing serious problems.
"Considering that Lake George is the backbone of tourism in our county, and with the frequent congestion on its waters and the accidents that occur, this boat patrol is absolutely vital," he said.
In just several months of 2008, the county marine patrol issued 90 citations and arrests and 408 warnings, he said. Also, they participated in 13 search-and-rescue operations, assisted at nine accidents, and conducted 53 vessel inspections.
County marine patrol supervisor Michael Webster said that many times, the county patrol was the only source of assistance for boaters in trouble.
"The marine patrol is very important to the public," he said. "We're the people who routinely respond to emergencies, particularly after hours."
The boat patrol costs $68,000 to operate in 2009, but 75 percent of the total is reimbursed by the state, VanNess said.
Warren County is responsible for approximately $17,000 annually to fund the patrols. But Essex County already chips in $5,000 toward the program, reducing the Warren County share to around $12,000.
But with a state Department of Environmental Conservation presence on waterways, some supervisors said the local taxpayer money should go elsewhere.
Swan said the boat patrol has the strongest presence on Lake George with boats stationed on the lake - one in Lake George village and another in Bolton. A third boat travels to the remote locations around the region, fulfilling shared service requirements.
The patrol not only covers Warren County waters, but also Schroon Lake in Essex County and several Hamilton County and Washington County lakes.
It is on Schroon Lake three days per week in peak season he said, as well as on Loon Lake.
Swan said that to reduce costs, the sheriff's office has already reduced the number of routine patrols on Lake George.
"We followed the supervisors' request," Swan said.
Journal Editor Thom Randall contributed to this report.