Pulaski (WSYR-TV) - The line to a single voting machine was steady in the Village of Pulaski on Tuesday. A proposition to abolish the local police department attracted a record number of voters for village elections. The measure failed 147-217, with most voters in favor of keeping their village police department instead of handing over patrols to the Oswego County Sheriff's Office and New York State Police.
"Some of the things in Pulaski are getting a little worse and I think that having them here keeps things under control," said Maria Wood. "In the same sense, I live in the village and my taxes are threatened to go up. So I'm nervous about that too."
Village of Pulaski Clerk/Treasurer Michele Cusyck estimates last year's village elections attracted roughly 35 voters, compared to 370 voters on Tuesday night. Villagers across the state have faced similar debates in recent years, as municipal budgets tighten.
"I think this small village needs the police department. It is a big tourist attraction, with a lot of fisherman, and sometimes they lose their inhibitions and you've got to control those," said former Mayor Ed Delaney.
"We have a sheriff's department. We have state troopers in surrounding areas. I just think it is overkill. Pulaski, being a small village, I think it doesn't warrant a separate police department," said Don Cronk.
A handful of voters expressed frustration about a lack of clear information. In February, the village posted an open letter online, claiming the police department's current budget is $218,000, including salaries, expenses, and benefits. Police Chief Ellery Terpening said he isn't sure how that number was calculated. He offered a spreadsheet with a different tally, $168,000.
Pulaski's police force operates with a full-time chief and seven part-time officers. Terpening said most of his workers also have other jobs and often leave for full-time opportunities. He lost four officers within the past year and expected another officer to resign this week.
The chief said some village leaders expressed concern late last year, that the local police department wasn't providing enough coverage to justify the expense for taxpayers. In order to meet their desire for increased patrols and better staff retention, Terpening estimated it could cost an additional $100,000 to increase salaries and hire another full-time officer. But, the chief stressed that the figure he pitched simply represents one option for the department's future.
"To continue what we're doing, no we can't cut corners. If we want to continue to grow in the coverage that they are looking for, that the mayor has expressed that he wants...and the people in this village, we are going to have to have more money," Terpening explained.
Response time was a source of angst for many voters, concerned that outside agencies would not be able to respond to calls quickly.
"Being someone who lives right inside the village and sees some activity, I can't imagine how it would be handled if we had to wait for the sheriff's office or another source to come around," Elizabeth Proctor said.
"Take a day like today. We have bad weather. Roads are bad. There are motor vehicle accidents. A call of kids pranking or knocking on somebody's door is a low priority call. It may be hours before somebody comes and takes care of that," Chief Terpening argued.
With a state police barracks just down the road from the village police headquarters, Bob Rodgers isn't convinced that deputies would take any longer to respond. He voted in favor of dissolution.
"I'm going with my wallet, not my heart," said Rodgers.
Chief Terpening said he's confident the department can find room to increase patrols at a fair cost, if village leaders are willing to sit down and hammer out the numbers. Mayor Karl Hax won another term during the village election. On Tuesday, he declined to comment on the police department dissolution proposition.
With hundreds of people turning out at the polls, many could relate to a common goal.
"We're village residents. We have children. We've lived here for 15 years and our simple position is that we want the village to be safe," said Greg Powlin.
Workers spent hours counting ballots in Pulaski Tuesday due to a large number of write-in votes. Mayor Karl Hax was reelected with 174 votes. But, Fran Taplin earned 101 write-in votes. Clerk Cusyck said that is an unusually high number of write-in votes for Pulaski village elections.
Two open Trustee positions will be filled by Steve Olson with 184 votes and Terry Allen with 178 votes.