Millerton board gets A-plus for openness

Governments are constantly striving for transparency these days — especially when it comes to tough topics dealing with issues like whether a community should do away with its own local police force and instead contract with the county sheriff’s office.

That is the exact dilemma the Millerton Village Board is facing right now, as it weighs the pros and cons of continuing to budget $90,000 a year for the part-time, nine-member Millerton Police Department (MPD). The alternative would be to dissolve the village force and hire the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO), which would install a substation where the MPD is currently housed at Village Hall with one deputy per shift, for an as-of-yet unknown fee (but ideally within the existing $90,000 annual police budget).

Of course, there are still a number of details to confirm, but many were hashed out before nearly 50 community members, the mayor and full Village Board, Acting Sheriff Kirk Imperati and a number of DCSO representatives — all of whom attended a special village workshop at the NorthEast-Millerton Library Annex on Tuesday, March 29.

Seeing so many people from the community show up to hear why the village is interested in contracting with the DCSO and learn how the acting sheriff believes his office can improve policing in Millerton was incredibly encouraging. So, too, was listening to all of the very thoughtful and intelligent questions from those in the audience.

Mayor Jenn Najdek wisely asked that only village residents pose questions, as the transition from the MPD to the DCSO would only be for police services within the village.

She explained the town of North East’s contract for police services with the village is due to expire on May 31. If the MPD dissolves, the town will not have a reason to renew its police contract with the village. That means the village would lose the town’s fiscal contribution toward financing its yearly $90,000 police budget.

The town typically pays about 20% of Millerton’s annual police budget; in 2022 it paid $26,500 for the MPD to patrol in North East (up $500 from 2021).

Najdek suggested town residents attend the North East Town Board meeting on Thursday, April 14, at 7 p.m., if they have questions about how the town plans to handle policing if the MPD is disbanded.

The hour-long workshop on the 29th was orderly; people were respectful and everyone gave the acting sheriff and his cohorts a chance to say their piece.

It was a great example of open government. Throughout this difficult period of figuring out how to best plan for Millerton’s future police services, the Village Board has been transparent, showing accountability while fostering democracy and inclusivity. We applaud the mayor and her board for their openness.

In fact, in a follow-up interview with this editor, the mayor said her only regret was forgetting to leave her business cards so those who attended would have her contact information. She wanted to make sure village residents know that whether they favor the switch to the DCSO for local police coverage or not, she is available to answer their questions.

“I’d be willing to speak with anyone who is opposed to this,” she said. “I also know sometimes from talking with some people, they just believe that the local police is better no matter what you tell them and how you explain it; they will never change their minds. It may just be the principle of it.

“At one time I heard the argument, ‘We’re already paying for [those services] in county taxes,’” added the mayor. “Sure. We already pay to the county for the Sheriff’s Office, Fire Investigation Team, the Drug Task Force Team, their own internal affairs; we certainly already pay for that, but we don’t currently pay for someone dedicated to our village.”

However, at the end of the day, Najdek tried to see both sides of the coin.

“I don’t want to spend time trying to convince anybody,” she said. “People should be making their own decisions on it, and make decisions based on the facts.”

For more on the workshop presentation by the Millerton Village Board and DCSO, be sure to read this week’s front page.

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