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Hidy: Village may stop providing security for airport

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MASSENA - Mayor James F. Hidy said he is prepared to stop sending village police officers to the airport to provide federally mandated security details at the end of the month unless the town board agrees to sign a contract for slightly over $50,000 to continue receiving that coverage .

Mr. Hidy had written a letter, dated Aug. 4, to Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray expressing his concerns with the existing arrangement. “As you may be aware, as of May 31, 2013, the village of Massena has been providing law enforcement services to the Massena International Airport with no agreement in place. Further, providing such service has become cost prohibitive to the village police department.”

In order to continue providing the service, Mr. Hidy is asking the town board to sign an agreement that would reimburse the village for its expenses at the airport.

The letter also included a copy of the agreement, as well as a cost analysis done by Massena Police Chief Timmy J. Currier.

“The worksheet outlines costs between what is actual to the village police department and what is being reimburtsed by TSA,” Mr. Hidy wrote. “You will see the disparity.”

Mr. Hidy also noted in the letter that the village has not been reimbursed for security expenses dating back to September of 2012.

“It is notable that the village police department has continued to provide law enforcement services at the airport since October 2012 without any reimbursement of costs whatsoever,” he wrote.

According to the letter, Mr. Hidy was owed $48,834.32 through July 2013.

Smaller airports had been awarded grant money to help pay for the post-Sept. 11 mandate, but lasts year TSA changed the way it calculated the grants, reducing both the estimated number of hours an officer needed to work and the amount each officer would be paid.

Town bookkeeper Nancy Fregoe said in December 2012 the last check the town had received from the TSA represented a 64 percent reduction in reimbursement payments since August 2010.

Mr. Currier said that the department is responsbile for one hour of overtime each day, as the airport’s morning flight coincides with a shift change.

According to his worksheet, one hour of overtime at $36.23 per hour multiplied by 365 days per year equals $13,223.95 in overtime paid to officers working at the airport each year.

As for the other flights coming in and out of the airport, Mr. Currier said his officers spend 4.5 hours per day at the airport, which given the hourly salary of $24.15 equals an $108.68 expense each day, an annual cost of $39,666.38. With overtime added, Mr. Currier calculated the village will spend $52,890.33 on airport security this year.

“What we’re looking to do is be reimbursed for the expense of having our officers out there,” Mr. Currier said.

When the police department first began providing security at the airport, Mr. Currier said they were paid a rate of $22.12 per hour for an eight-hour day.

“There’s been a couple of times that the rates have gone up, but now it’s reduced to $22.96 per hour,” Mr. Currier said referring to the rate TSA will pay to reimburse the town for three hours of work each day.

At one point, Mr. Currier said that rate was up to $25.94 per hour.

Given TSA’s reimbursement rate, Mr. Currier said the town should receive $25,141.20, leaving them responsible for $27,749.13.

Mr. Currier said he realizes the airport is an important asset to the community and that is why they’re not seeking more money from the town.

“The airport is a big part of economic development and the vitality of our community,” he said. “We’re just looking for the salary portion. We haven’t even considered fringe benefits, equipment or fuel.”

In his letter to Mr. Gray, the mayor said he was expecting the town board to accept the agreement at their Sept. 18 board meeting, something that did not happen.

Councilman John F. Macaulay said that he didn’t agree to the town paying overtime for its security detail.

“That job is being done every day. It’s a part of the schedule,” he said. “I do not agree that a routine job these guys are doing should be conducive to an overtime rate.”

Councilman Albert N. Nicola agreed.

“They’re already on duty,” he said.

Mr. Hidy said that while village police officers are going to the airport every day, that doesn’t mean it is a routine task.

“It’s not a routine job. They’re patrolmen. There again Mr. Gray is confused about a contract,” he said. “The primary focus of the Massena police department is to protect and serve contractually within the village limits. The service was extended to the town airport through an agreement to be paid accordingly.”

Mr. Hidy also said that overtime is regularly needed and when village police officers are at the airport, instead of in the village, the community is at greater risk.

“The key element here that everyone needs to be aware of, even Mr. Gray and the town board, is that we have anywhere from three to four patrolmen on duty at one time,” he said. “Our primary concern regardless of anything else is to respond to the emergency needs of our residents. With the amount of calls that our police department receives, we cannot afford to have a policeman standing idlely at the airport.”

Mr. Hidy, who noted that Mr. Gray is a resident of the village, said that should the town supervisor need police assistance and the department was slow to respond, he has no doubt that Mr. Gray would be critical of the village and its police department.

“I would hate to think that, but he would be the first person to criticize the PD, if in his time of need an officer was unable to respond because he was at the airport,” Mr. Hidy said, adding, “Trust me it has happened.”

While Mr. Currier stopped short of saying there has been instances when his officers were unable to respond, he did say there have been instances when response has been delayed due to having an officer at the airport.

“It certainly leaves our coverage in the village shorthanded when we are covering the airport,” he said. “We have had instances were calls for service were delayed, because we didn’t have someone available at that time.”

Mr. Hidy said if the town doesn’t want to sign the agreement with the village, perhaps they should seek security coverage elsewhere.

“In his own words if he doesn’t give a damn about contracts or agreements, maybe he should look elsewhere,” Mr. Hidy said, a shot at comments the supervisor made earlier this month when he voiced dissatisfaction with the village failing to jointly fund a single code enforcement officer. “We’re proposing nothing different from what another agency would propose and nothing different from what we have done in the past. The proposal we sent them was worked out by our chief and is a fair proposal.”

Mr. Hidy said he has suggested to Mr. Gray that the town look elsewhere for coverage in past, but none of those conversations seem to have gone very far.

“I’ve asked Mr. Gray on numerous occassions to try and reach out to the sheriff’s department, state police, or even border patrol. Why he’s not making issues with their agencies and choosing to focus on just the Massena PD is narrow-minded,” he said.

Without the board approving the agreement at its meeting last week and no session scheduled before the village’s Sept. 30 deadline, Mr. Gray acknowledged that alternate arrangements may have to be made.

“We may need to make other arrangements in the interim, but I don’t know what those are,” he said.

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