Jerry Gershner Discusses Soliciting In The Ossining Police Department

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OSSINING, N.Y. -- The unincorporated portion of the Town of Ossining (a.k.a. Town Outside) hired Westchester County four years ago to provide police services after disbanding its own very expensive police force.

The Westchester County police have performed superbly in that role. However, their contract expires at the end of 2014 and the Town of Ossining has once again solicited proposals from interested police departments. 

Four years ago, these same governmental bodies submitted proposals to provide these services. The bids were approximately $300,000 per year apart with the low bidder being the Village of Ossining.

For reasons never explained, the four town board members chose to award the contract to Westchester County, the high bidder. 

This would be a good time for Trustees Geoffrey Harter and Northern Wilcher, the two remaining Ossining village residents still on the town board, to publicly justify their vote that cost the Town Outside residents more than $1.2 million over four years just on the contract itself. 

Over the four years of the contract, the Village of Ossining’s bid was substantially lower than that of Westchester County. The Village of Ossining’s average annual charge over the life of the 4-year contract is $1,873,061 vs. Westchester County’s average annual charge of $2,579,788. 

The bids speak for themselves. The Village of Ossining’s bid is a firm number while Westchester County’s proposal has some admitted wiggle room in the ultimate annual charge. I urge the entire town board to consider who is paying for the police contract when they vote to spend our money.

It is important for the members of the Ossining Town Board to hear your thoughts on this important subject. They can be contacted at:

Susanne Donnelly: sdonnelly@townofossining.com
Eric P. Blaha: blaha@townofossining.com
Geoffrey Harter: harter@townofossining.com
Kim Jeffrey: jeffrey@townofossining.com
Northern Wilcher: wilcher@townofossining.com

Thank you for your help, 

Jerry Gershner

GERSHNER REALTY SERVICES
 

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Village taxpayers better wake from their summer slumber and pay attention to this police contract proposal. If you don’t, village taxes are going to go through the roof. This is not just a town issue.

The police contract as currently proposed is an enormous giveaway by the village that will mean that village taxpayers will be subsidizing the cost of police protection for the town outside. Go online and read the proposal and watch the Town Board meeting. The contract doesn’t come close to covering the real cost of providing the service to the town. Capt. Craven promises to “pass the savings on to the town.” What he means by “savings” is that the village will eat the difference between the real cost and the contract’s lower cost. And the mayor just sat there?

Beyond the short-term subsidy, this is a contract that will cost village taxpayers money for the next 30 to 40 years. Why? Pension costs. When village police officers are allowed to pad their salaries by patrolling the town on overtime, it also means that they will ultimately be able to pad their pensions. That’s because pensions are based on earnings – salaries and overtime. And who will pay for these inflated pensions? The village taxpayer, not the town outside taxpayer. There is NOTHING in this contract that requires the town to pay anything toward an officer’s pension costs. Those village pension costs will rise exponentially once the officers retire after being allowed to make a ton of OT in the town. And cops who retire in their 50s will live another 30 years at minimum and the village will have those increased costs the whole time. And if this contract with its massive overtime is renewed every four years, the gravy train will roll on and on and on.

I think most of us understand that rising public employee pension costs are a significant driver of property taxes – both in our municipalities and in our schools. (Ever seen Phyllis Glassman’s pension?) It is mind-boggling for village officials to submit a contract proposal that will enable village police officers to dramatically increase their earnings – and as a result their pensions -- by working a crazy amount of overtime somewhere else.

How crazy are we talking about? The proposal calls for the equivalent of five officers to patrol the town strictly on overtime. Do the math. One cop works 40 hours a week for 48 weeks (my guess is they get 4 weeks of vacation on average). That’s 1,920 hours. Times 5. That’s 9,600 hours of overtime every year at time-and-a-half. Almost 40,000 hours over the life of the proposed contract! And that’s before the usual kind of things occur that already result in police overtime. The salaries that village officers make will explode. Their pensions will explode. And pension costs are killing us already.

I decided to respond to Mr. Gershner’s letter because it stuns me that he doesn’t understand the fiscal implications of this contract on the village. (Perhaps he does but lives in the town outside?) But as a businessman trying to sell houses in the village of Ossining, does he think that it will be easier to do that when taxes get even higher? And as a businessman can’t he see all the things not covered in this contract?

Or maybe the village plans to patrol the town outside on foot and in street clothes. Maybe that’s why I’m not seeing anything that requires the town to reimburse the village for police cars, gasoline, uniforms, guns, bullets and any other equipment needed to do the job. Why not? Because clearly the village has decided to pick up the tab for that too – meaning the village taxpayer will pay those costs and the town yet again gets the “savings.”

Mr. Gershner also thinks it’s good that the village bid is “firm” while the county has “wiggle room.” A firm bid is a negligent bid. What happens in the event of a major incident that requires extra patrol cops in the town? Or a major crime that requires lots of detectives and detective hours to solve? The odds are small that such a thing will happen but what if it does? The village taxpayer gets the bill because the town’s got a “firm” bid. More costs to the village taxpayer and more “savings” for the town.

Here’s the last thing for everyone to chew on. I mentioned all this to a friend in the NYPD. I told him I would not be at all concerned if the contract required the town to cover the total costs, increased pensions included. He surprised me by saying that I still should be a little concerned. His reasons: police work by its very nature leads to injury and litigation. He told me to check the contract and see whether the town has to cover any costs if a village police officer gets injured while working in the town and goes out on long-term disability. The answer is no. He also said to check if the town has to pay for, or at least contribute to, the cost of defending any lawsuit that might result from a village officer’s work in the town. Again, the answer is no.

Any lawsuit, any long-term injury, and it is the village taxpayer who is left holding the bag. More costs to the village, more “savings” for the town. Sound familiar?

Here’s the million dollar question: what’s in it for the village taxpayer for the village to provide police services to the town?

Answer: nothing.

It’s easy to see that this is a sweetheart deal for the town outside and like winning the lottery for the police. But there are zero benefits for the village taxpayer who only gets higher pension costs, tired cops and increased liability risk out of the deal.

Wake up village taxpayers. Ask the village board why they are looking out for the town and not for you – or be prepared to pay through the nose. The last thing my NYPD friend said to me was to let him know if this contract goes through. If it does, he’s moving to Ossining and applying for a job.

If Trustees Harter and Wilcher offer an opinion on anything that the Town has ever done, I would look forward to hearing that. My strong impression to date is that they just go along with whatever the supervisor tells them to do. It has raised the question, for me, of why we have five people on the board if only one voice is the one that matters?