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Potsdam police chief urges board to fill vacancy

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POTSDAM — Police Chief Kevin A. Bates is urging the village’s Board of Trustees to fill a vacant position in his department.

Officials are determining whether, and how, to fill the vacancy created when they promoted Mr. Bates, formerly a sergeant, to police chief effective March 31. Mr. Bates replaced the retired Edward F. Tischler.

The board will pick one of three options. It could leave Mr. Bates’s sergeant position unfilled, which would decrease the department staff from 13 to 12; it could hire an additional patrolman to the staff but leave the sergeant position unfilled, decreasing the number of sergeants from three to two, or it could promote a patrolman to sergeant and hire a replacement.

The village has approximately $894,000 budgeted for police salaries in the 2012-13 spending plan, officials previously said. Hiring a patrolman but keeping the sergeant position vacant would save $5,500. Not hiring anyone else would save approximately $85,000.

Not filling the vacancy would stretch the department, Mr. Bates said at Monday night’s board meeting.

“The day shift patrols will be reactive, not proactive,” he said.

Leaving the position unfilled has already caused overtime costs in his department, he said. He did not have overtime figures available at the village board meeting.

Officers have volunteered to work overtime so far, but Mr. Bates predicted mandatory overtime would be implemented if the board left the position unfilled.

“Mandated overtime leads to resentment of the administration and the job itself,” he said. “Increased overtime causes overworked and tired officers.”

Faltering morale could then cause the police department to lose stature among officers, he said.

“If the police department becomes a steppingstone, there’s no sense of commitment to the department or the community as a whole,” he said.

Board members did not decide the position’s fate on Monday night and plan to seek public comment on it at 6 p.m. May 21.

“I urge all those interested in this matter to, please, let us hear from you,” Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis said.

Trustee Ruth F. Garner is against any department cuts.

“It’s always a target because it is one of the most costly in the village,” she said. “It’s also an integral part of the village.”

Former Potsdam Fire Chief Joseph P. Gallagher also advocated for the department, maintaining it is key to preserving safety in Potsdam. “We need to face the fact this isn’t Mayberry anymore,” he said.

Trustee Stephen J. Warr said no one wants to cut the police department. But the rising costs for retirement require a review.

“I’m just as concerned as anyone else with protecting people’s safety,” he said. “It’s a question of short-term versus long-term ... somewhere we have to address that.”

Mr. Yurgartis, who is still undecided, echoed a similar sentiment. A newly hired officer will cost the village approximately $7 million over the course of his career and retirement, Mr. Yurgartis said. Most of that cost will come from retirement, he said.

“We’re basically living on a credit card,” he said. “We’re asking residents 20 years from now to pay a lot of the costs.”

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