The residents of Mineola will finally have a chance to vote on whether the Village of Mineola will have its own police force. The date the village board set for the referendum is December 5.
It was way back in November 2005 when a task force comprised of village residents appointed by Mineola Mayor Jack M. Martins presented its report that concluded that the village having its own police department was both fiscally possible and legal.
Since then, numerous hearings have been held about the issue of whether the village residents and business owners would be better served with its own police department.
Last week, the village board decided that the time had come for the public to decide the issue. "Let's make a decision. We made a commitment that the people will have an opportunity to vote," said Mayor Martins.
If there was one issue that the village board has been divisive on, it's the issue of police. Mayor Martins has often clashed with two of the trustees on the board - Linda Fairgrieve and Paul Cusato - over the police department issue.
Mayor Martins, Deputy Mayor Larry Werther and Trustee John DaVanzo became upset with Fairgrieve and Cusato when the two trustees met with Nassau Police Commissioner Jim Lawrence without their knowledge. As the village election approached in March, the board became more divided over the issue with Fairgrieve and Cusato insisting on having an independent consultant conduct a study on whether the village should have its own police. The only viable proposal was made by the Center for Governmental Research in Manhattan, which proposed conducting the study for $112,000. The board rejected that proposal.
When it came to setting the date for the referendum, again the board disagreed. Mayor Martins, Werther and DaVanzo proposed setting the date as December 5. However, Fairgrieve and Cusato proposed having the referendum in March along with the annual village elections.
Mayor Martins fears that if the police referendum was to be held along with the village elections, the issue would become politicized and the issue of whether the village should have its own police force is too important to be influenced by politics. Mayor Martins also points out that referendums have historically been held on their own as he referenced the pool referendum, which was held on April 30, 1996 after the village elections and the library referendum, which was held on Oct. 20, 1998 before the village election.
Fairgrieve and Cusato felt that the village should have the referendum the same day as the village election to take advantage of the fact that the village has to have the voting machines for election day anyway. However, Mayor Martins, Werther and DaVanzo felt the police department issue should stand on its own.
Cusato also felt that because the referendum is being held in December, some residents might be away for the holidays. However, Davanzo said residents could obtain absentee ballots.
Fairgrieve also felt that having the referendum in March would also give residents more of an opportunity to examine the issue. "I don't see the rush in it," she said.
Werther feels that the village residents have a tremendous amount of information and agrees with the mayor that the time has come for the residents to decide the issue. The first hearing on the police department issue was held on December 12, 2005.
The mayor originally proposed the idea of looking into a police force because he felt the amount of taxes the village was paying to the county ($6.7 million) for patrol from the Nassau County Police 3rd Precinct warranted more coverage than the village was getting (what amounts to 3.5 patrol cars at a given time).
The task force, headed by retired New York City Police detective and Mineola resident John Curry, concluded that the village could provide more coverage for less money.
Still, some residents weren't convinced. Some of the residents who spoke at the hearings that were held that the task force's report didn't account for enough police officers. Curry and the other members of the task force have been working on an operational study of what a village police department may look like and what it would cost. That report is expected to be put on the village's website (www.mineola-ny.gov) and mailed to village residents.
Mayor Martins believes the issue of whether the village should have its own police department is about whether the village will receive better coverage with its own department than it receives from Nassau County. The mayor feels that people who are for the department will vote 'yes' on December 5 and those who don't think it is a good idea can vote 'no,' but at least residents have an option.
The village board has scheduled additional hearings on the police issue before the vote. They will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 8, Tuesday, Nov. 21 and Monday, Nov 27. It is hoped that the residents will have the operational report for those hearings.