New SUVs for commuting Schenectady cops stalled with impasse in council
SCHENECTADY Here’s one way to not get legislation passed by the City Council: Argue that the city must spend an extra $16,000 so that police officers who live in rural Saratoga County can get to work safely in city-owned vehicles.
The Police Department wants the city to outfit two officers with high-end SUVs, at $26,000 each, so that they can get to work in any weather.
Three members of the City Council on Tuesday dug in their heels at the idea, which new Councilman Vince Riggi derided as an insult to city taxpayers.
“It’s not going to be our taxpayers’ problem if people choose to live in Saratoga County. We have to make sure they get here safely?” he said. “They should live in the city!”
For years, City Council members Barbara Blanchard and Carl Erikson have criticized the city’s tendency to buy big, expensive vehicles. But until now, their complaints have remained solidly in the minority on the all-Democratic council.
But with the addition of an independent on the council — Riggi — they suddenly have enough votes to bring their point of view to the fore.
There are only six members on the council right now — the seventh and tie-breaking seat is currently vacant and will remain so until the council can agree on whom to appoint.
The council also appears to be split, 3-3, on that decision.
“What you’re proposing is not going to pass,” Erikson said bluntly when Assistant Chief Brian Kilcullen tried to argue for the SUVs.
Erikson and Riggi proposed using vans instead, as they cost $8,000 less each than Chevy Tahoes and have far more space for equipment. However, Tahoes have four-wheel-drive, making them safer during bad storms.
Kilcullen said the city must send vehicles home with the officers, who are evidence technicians. In the police contract, all four evidence techs get to take a vehicle home with them because they rotate being on call at night.
While the City Council cannot immediately change the contract, Riggi noted that the city doesn’t have to send home an SUV — any vehicle would do. “Contractually, they don’t have to have four-wheel-drive,” he said.
Erikson added that he’d never heard of a case being dismissed due to lack of evidence because technicians couldn’t get to the crime scene in the snow. He also suggested that in an emergency, with the only roads to a crime scene made impassible by snow, the evidence technician could use one of the many other four-wheel-drive vehicles owned by the Police Department.
Blanchard added that the city’s plows could also likely clear a path for an evidence technician.
But what if the technician is stuck at home, miles from Schenectady? There is one evidence technician who lives in the city, Kilcullen said. And two of the four technicians have four-wheel-drive vehicles already.
“So half your fleet is four-wheel-drive!” Erikson said. “I think when we’re telling people they can’t get raises ... this is not the right message.”
He said the department must get by with a less-expensive vehicle. “I think most communities have sufficed with a van. I don’t see why we’re so different from other communities in upstate New York,” he said.
Riggi added that vans are more practical because they offer more space for equipment.
Councilwomen Margaret King and Leesa Perazzo said they would vote for Tahoes because the officers’ old vehicles must be replaced. Perazzo also argued that the Police Department had shown “due diligence” by reducing its fleet and replacing some gas-guzzlers with smaller cars. “I’m not for spending taxpayer dollars unnecessarily, but this is our police force, which is critical,” she said.
But her colleagues didn’t budge and Kilcullen refused to accept vans.
Finally, Council President Denise Brucker told Kilcullen he would have to come up with a compromise. She would support Tahoes, she said, as would King and Perazzo. “But here’s the thing, we’ve got three people on the council who will not let this go through,” she said. “How about we come back in two weeks with a compromise suggestion?”
Erikson floated one idea: Buying one Tahoe and two vans, with the Tahoe being used by the traffic division to ticket vehicles illegally parked on the street during plowing.
Kilcullen wasn’t persuaded. “I’d rather not get any vans,” he said.