Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra accused local firebrands District 2 County Legislator Joe Maloney and Saugerties Conservative Party Chair George Heidcamp of “political grandstanding” at an April 17 town board meeting for questioning the fiscal responsibility a proposed agreement between the town Police Department and the Department of Social Services to lend a Saugerties officer to their Family Violence Unit, which will investigate domestic violence incidents and provide resources to victims. Heidcamp and Maloney intimated that Sinagra had begun negotiations without consulting the town board. Ultimately, the town board would need to sign off on the agreement before any personnel would be reassigned, but the pair felt that the board should have been more involved in negotiations.
“I’m not saying law enforcement shouldn’t have the tools, but we are surrounded by the sheriff’s department and the state police. During the 38 years [I served with the Saugerties Police Department]…I never had to call state police or the sheriff’s department,” said Heidcamp. “We had a dog, we had all you needed…I just think there’s duplication. People are losing their homes. Governor [Andrew] Cuomo said people are moving out of here. What I’m saying is think about this first — what is it going to cost the taxpayers.”
The Family Violence Unit is made up of officers from the state police, the Sheriff’s Department, Kingston PD and investigators from the District Attorney’s office. It deals with incidents involving child abuse, domestic violence and abuse of the elderly; Maloney and Heidcamp questioned whether it is advisable to pull officers from Saugerties and Ellenville for the initiative. An earlier iteration of this program was launched by the county in 1995, which Sinagra served on for five years during his tenure as a Town of Ulster police officer.
“We weren’t ready — I wasn’t ready to go to the entire town board…because I want to know what the package is,” said Sinagra in response.
Maloney was the only legislator of the five on the county’s Ways and Means committee to vote against Resolution 172, which was approved as a late resolution on April 12. He said that town board members had not been apprised of the negotiation and that it would cost the town about $45,000 and an officer from their already-scant police force. According to Sinagra, this monetary estimate is based on misguided figures.
“The numbers that Mr. Maloney came with to you tonight are initial numbers…that were met early on in negotiations with [Investigator Jim] McCoy, who’s a senior investigator from the Ulster County Child Advocacy Center Family Violence Unit,” said Sinagra in response to Maloney and Heidcamp’s line of questioning. He says that the town will be reimbursed for much of the salary while the officer is still working on cases in Saugerties. “They were looking at proposed cost if we were to put an officer in there. They based it on a sergeant. I wish my guys were making 70 or 80 thousand a year. They’re not making 60k a year as patrolmen. To come here and speak publicly and say that the town is losing money, the cost is $75,000 a year is what they’re offering to the town. That particular officer makes $62,000 per year.”
Sinagra said that he had already selected Officer Ryan Hamill for the position; he would be pulled out of another inter municipal team, the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team (URGENT), so that he could be available for the position. After two years of service on the task force, Hamill would return to the Saugerties Police department. Currently, Sinagra said, it costs $128,776.59 per year to lend an officer to URGENT; the county reimburses $150,000 with the remainder is used to cover overtime pay. He said at this town board meeting that “we aren’t losing the money on this deal — for once we’re participating in a county initiative where we’re going to get money back.”
Sinagra cited that Saugerties had the second highest rate of domestic violence incidents in the county.
“I mean, there’s no greater cause as far as I’m concerned than protecting our community members — part of that community is our children,” he said. “We’re the only department in the county that rolls around in a purple and white police car — I want a reminder out there that these are legitimate issues that we deal with.”
Sinagra said that Hamill would still work part-time as a beat cop in Saugerties for events and holidays; Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael Iapoce said at the April 12 Ways and Means committee meeting that “It’s a full-time assignment to the family and children’s advocacy center. The police department in Saugerties and Ellenville are assigning [those officers]… full time.”
“The taxpayer would still be paying the same amount of money,” explained Sinagra. “There’s a true savings to the town because part of his salary is being paid for by the county, but the beauty of it is that he would be assigned to cases here in Saugerties.”
Maloney was quick to concede that he supported the spirit of the program, but that he would like to “fight for that $50,000 dollars” that he thinks will be covered without benefit by the taxpayer. In an interview a week later, Maloney held that conviction.
“Of course I want this position to be filled, but that doesn’t mean that out of the entire county, we pick the town of Saugerties and the village of Ellenville,” he said. “It seems to me that if they’re going to take this position from Saugerties, they should make Saugerties whole.”
Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. said that he would need to see the county’s offer before he could weigh in on the issue.
“I’m thankful for the county’s opportunity for us to perhaps have an opportunity to be involved in that program. our police department has made domestic violence a priority for years,” said Costello. “Our purple police car has been a part of domestic violence displays across the county…and we’ve also made a point of training our officers to do with family violence. I think that our department is uniquely equipped to be involved in this task force, but we haven’t seen that contract yet. I’m hopeful. I can’t speak to any specifics about it yet, but assuming we like it, we’ll put it up to a vote.”