MALONE - Franklin County legislators have endorsed state legislation that would allow the county's three villages to hire retired state troopers as part-time police officers.
The unanimous decision at Thursday's meeting came after a debate about the merits of the bill between Legislator Paul Maroun of Tupper Lake, who's also the village of Tupper Lake's mayor, and county Personnel Officer Paul Duffee. Maroun said the change will save money for the villages and help shore up each police department's staffing, but Duffee argued that it could prevent young and aspiring police officers from getting hired.
The county's resolution, which Maroun drafted, urges the state to adopt pending legislation in the Senate and Assembly that would direct the county Civil Service Commission to allow for the appointment of retired police officers as part-time police officers by municipal police departments in the county.
Given their budget constraints, Maroun said the villages of Malone, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake have been looking to hire part-time police officers. However, current civil service laws prevent the villages from hiring retired state police, park police and state Department of Environmental Conservation police to part-time jobs.
"This will help increase the pool so that you have a pool of part-time officers who can work certain hours after they retire, and this will help the three communities that have police departments," Maroun said.
Maroun noted that the village of Lake Placid already has former state troopers working part time for its police department. He said that's because of an exception to civil service law that was created for the village when it hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics and hasn't been rescinded.
The pending state legislation only applies to Franklin County. Maroun, who also works for state Sen. Betty Little, said they'd like to make it statewide, but union leaders have argued that it will take jobs away from those who'd like to become full-time police officers.
That was the argument made by Duffee, who said usually 130 to 150 people show up to take the civil service exam for police officer, "all of whom would like the chance to start a career in law enforcement." If the villages don't hire those people for part-time positions, which often give them a leg-up on full-time jobs, and opt instead for retirees, there will be less opportunities for younger officers to get into the field, he said.
"I have a concern that if that occurs enough, so that these villages fill all their part-time positions or many of them with retired people, that will discourage new and younger people from entering that field and having an opportunity to follow the same career path," Duffee said.
Duffee also noted that new police officers are paying into the state retirement system. If a village hires a retired state employee, the taxpayers are paying that person's pension and their part-time wages, he said.
But Maroun strongly disagreed with most of Duffee's statements, calling him "way off base." He said his village tries to hire up-and-coming police officers, but most of them don't have the necessary police academy training to begin work immediately.
"We're trying to find people," Maroun said. "There aren't a lot of qualified officers. Yes, they've passed the test, but no, they haven't been to the school. This is going to save jobs and this is going to save taxpayers' money. This is going to keep police in the villages because without this, many villages are talking about letting the state police take over like they do in Chateaugay or Fort Covington."
Maroun said his village recently hired a part-time officer. It may have had to reduce a patrol shift if it couldn't add the part-time help. There are plenty of troopers who could have applied for the part-time job, but they aren't eligible, Maroun said.
"We're not trying to eliminate jobs and futures for new police officers," he said. "This is to absorb the gap that we can't afford. I think it's a win-win for everybody. I think the three mayors are supportive of this, and I know the three chiefs of police all support it."
Earlier this year, Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau said the village would like to hire as many as two part-time officers to boost his department's ranks. Adding part-time help would "fill in the gaps, offer our full-timers more flexibility in their days off and still save taxpayer dollars," Rabideau said at the time.
"We don't want to hire another full-timer because the benefit package is financially daunting," the mayor said. "If we can do it with two-part timers, that would be great."
Saranac Lake Police Chief Bruce Nason said in March that one person - a retired state trooper - had expressed interest in being a part-time police officer with his department but isn't eligible because of current civil service laws.
Legislator Tim Burpoe of Saranac Lake said at Thursday's meeting that he could see both sides of the issue, but said he leans on the side of allowing state retirees to be eligible for part-time police jobs "because we're going to be able to save money, employ people that want to continue to serve, and they're going to be experienced."
Legislator Guy "Tim" Smith of Fort Covington said he has faith that the villages will work to hire young officers to grow their ranks over time, but he said they should have the flexibility to fill a position with a well-trained part-timer when necessary.
"I think it's a gap piece to help these villages out in tight times," said Chairman Billy Jones of Chateaugay.
The board adopted the resolution unanimously.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Little, is being reviewed by the chamber's Local Government Committee. A companion bill in the Assembly, sponsored by Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, has been referred to the Governmental Employees Committee but has yet to see any action.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.