GovernmentPolice/FireThe Putnam Examiner

Putnam County Legislators Spar Over Sheriff’s Issues, Funding 

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Putnam County Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino
Putnam County Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino

Members of two Putnam County Legislature committees clamped down on the Sheriff’s Department last week on a pair of contentious issues.

The Protective Services Committee announced the county will get rid of its two marine patrol boats stemming from the legislature having eliminated funding for the service in 2021 budget.

The other issue, pursued by the Rules Committee, concerned the impact on the county workers compensation fund should a moonlighting deputy get injured while working security or traffic control for private companies.

Last November, the legislature cut the Marine Patrol out of the current year’s budget. Two boats had navigated Lake Mahopac and the Hudson River.

Protective Services Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) said the budget process clearly determined that the lake and the river were adequately patrolled.

“The Town of Carmel added funding to their budget and assured us they are adequately covered for the boating season,” she said.

Nacerino added that multiple agencies patrol the Hudson River including the state police, the Coast Guard and numerous volunteer agencies. She said the sheriff’s marine patrol on both water bodies was an unnecessary duplication of services.

Despite the cuts, the Sheriff’s Department submitted budget requests for tune-ups for the boats, a move which Nacerino described as an act of blatant defiance.

“Those requests were ultimately denied,” Nacerino said. “It was our hope and expectation that there would be respect and cooperation from the Sheriff’s Department.”

The two boats in question are a Boston Whaler for Lake Mahopac, a 21-foot vessel built in 1988 and acquired by the county in 2018 with the ability to search in the dark and handle water emergencies, and the 24-foot Boston Whaler Enforcer for the Hudson, which was acquired in 2013.

County Executive MaryEllen Odell wrote a letter last Thursday to county executives in Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess and Orange about their marine patrol units on the Hudson.

Nancy Montgomery
Putnam County Legislator Nancy Montgomery

County Legislator Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown), the board’s only Democrat, responded that the committee neglected to include her letter to Odell in the meeting’s packet of documents even though she requested it. Montgomery read her letter to Odell asking for documentation of mutual aid agreements with the neighboring counties and the Coast Guard.

“As it was your initiative and the eight members of the legislature who voted to defund the Putnam County Sheriff’s Marine Unit, I being the ‘no’ vote, I am assuming that your office has established mutual aid programs with Rockland, Westchester, Dutchess and Orange counties, as well as the United States Coast Guard, prior to defunding the Putnam County marine patrol unit on the Hudson,” Montgomery said. 

“We really never saw the hard data about response and calls from those that are dispatched on the river,” she added.

“We’re not here to go backwards and debate the issue at hand,” Nacerino responded.

She reiterated that Odell requested both vessels be returned and the marine licenses terminated. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which originally provided the boats, is scheduled to pick up the vessels on July 1. All county equipment shall be removed and that the state-owned equipment and accessories be turned over to the state.

Police Moonlighting a High Risk

The Committee on Rules, Enactments & Intergovernmental Relations raised the issue of sheriff’s deputies moonlighting for private businesses.

Committee Chairman Neal Sullivan (R-Carmel) framed the topic as a “discussion of interest.” Putnam County Risk Manager Mat Bruno, who addressed lawmakers, said if a deputy is allowed to work on traffic control for a private company and becomes injured, the county is liable.

“If the injury is substantial, the county has to pay out significant expenses for medical treatment,” Bruno told the committee. “County reimbursements from workers compensation do not kick in until $1.5 million in claims are filed. Until then, the county is on the hook for all that money which comes out of taxpayers’ pockets. I recommend the county not engage in the private traffic control business.”

Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel) suggested traffic control monitored by the Sheriff’s Department is a better scenario than having lay people do it.

“If a business could hire them for an hourly rate and cover them on their workers compensation, then there is no liability connection with the county,” Albano said. 

“I don’t see why it has to be under our blanket and our workers compensation.”

Bruno mentioned that if deputies moonlight on their own and get injured they can’t file for workers compensation if they’re not in the line of duty.”

Montgomery asked about the impact at county facilities such as Tilly Foster Farm, which uses the Sheriff’s Department for crowd and traffic control.

“The Cold Spring fireworks alerts the sheriff as do vaccination sites that are private organizations and law enforcement provides control,” she said. “I’m curious, how do we avoid doing it in the case of public safety that’s a liability that we have to take on?”

Nacerino said there are many private organizations that include retired police officers trained in traffic control to take on those types of jobs.

Albano asked about a moonlighting deputy using equipment provided by the county.

“If something happens that’s criminal, they have to act and that comes back to us anyway,” he said. “Maybe Putnam County shouldn’t be involved. It’s a very grey area where I don’t think we can completely eliminate ourselves from the liability work on the side. Ultimately the decision rests with the county executive.”

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