The Saugerties Town Board is considering the elimination of one of the two K-9 positions in the police department. Chief Joe Sinagra and his department see a clear case for replacing Sgt. Michael Craft, who purchased the dog he had worked with and retired from the department last month. The board sees an opportunity to cut costs without costing someone their job.
“With all the needs of the town, infrastructure, buildings, roofing, heating, equipment, machinery and manpower, the last thing we need is another dog,” said Councilman Paul Andreassen, who has advocated deleting the position for months. “Fiscal restraint begins here and will continue throughout my time on the council.”
A motion to cut the K-9 position was tabled with a 3-2 vote at the board’s Aug. 15 town board meeting; Both Andreassen and Councilman Mike MacIsaac wanted to nix the position then and there, but Supervisor Fred Costello said that the department should be given an opportunity to have its say. “We owe the police department the opportunity to come and present their case for the K-9 to us,” Costello said.
At the meeting, Andreassen estimated that the cost of a K-9 unit, including the care of the dog and its handler’s salary is between $100,000 and $125,000. It’s not immediately clear what costs go into that number, but the department has provided some concrete figures: K-9 handlers work seven-hour days and are paid 1.5 hours of overtime per day for animal care. Per year, about $950 is spent on dog food; the Saugerties Animal Hospital provides veterinary services free of charge. About $4,000 would cover necessary equipment and the specially outfitted cruiser.
But Sinagra said Andreassen’s estimate is inaccurate, and that the department spent about $5000 per year on their two canine units before Craft retired. He cited grant and donation opportunities that could also offset the costs.
According to Sinagra, the now-vacant position was the only explosive-detecting canine team in the county, and was often borrowed by the sheriff’s department, the Greene County sheriff’s department, the Kingston police and other nearby agencies. In an April email to town board members when the prospect of eliminating the position was first posed, Sinagra cited an incident in March when Officer Jen Culver’s cadaver-detecting K-9 was used to find a drowned man in the Esopus Creek. According to Sinagra, the closest cadaver dog outside of Saugerties is part of the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department. The dog was trained by Culver, who moonlights her position on the police force training police dogs. She lent her dog’s services at no cost to the town. If the position is not eliminated, Culver will take Craft’s place as a K-9 handler.
“One K-9 can search an area quicker and faster than a team of cops and divers,” wrote Sinagra. “The amount of overtime money we and the Ulster County sheriff’s office did not have to spend, as a direct result through the utilization of Officer Culver’s cadaver K-9 in finding our missing person, was significant to say the least, saving the taxpayer thousands of dollars. Divers only had to go into the water and recovery the body at the location the K-9 indicated upon, not spending days searching the Esopus looking for a body.”
Before serving as chief of the Saugerties Police Department, Sinagra worked as a K-9 handler with the Town of Ulster police. Then, that department had four K-9 units; now it has only one.
“I firmly believe that when you’re cutting costs, you don’t start with your emergency services,” said Sinagra. “I understand that you have to cut costs in municipalities. … We’ve reached a point in government where any further cuts in government to emergency services could seriously impact our community.”
Officer Culver and Officer Steve Filak have prepared a presentation on their case for the unit to the town board; Sinagra said that a meeting had previously been scheduled for Aug. 15 and cancelled at the last minute. Costello said the matter is expected to be taken up at the town board’s Sept. 5 meeting.