Whether the Village of Mineola would get its own police department was of the most controversial issues to come to the village in some time and, judging from the number of residents who voted, it was a passionate one as well. Last week, residents defeated the referendum by a wide margin, clearly making a statement that a village police department was not wanted.
The central theme behind the failure was the fear that taxes would rise as a result of the village having its own police department even though the task force comprised of village residents said otherwise in an operational report mailed out to all homes.
When votes were tallied after the poles closed at 9 p.m. last Tuesday, 2,936 residents voted against the referendum, which called for pulling out of the Nassau County Police District, while 1,288 voted in favor of the proposal.
Village Trustee Linda Fairgrieve, who, like her colleague, Trustee Paul Cusato, was against the idea of forming a village police department, felt the residents voted no because there was too much uncertainty and not enough information to support it.
"There were too many unanswered questions. There were too many uncertainties," she said.
One couple that wasn't comfortable with the results presented by the Mineola Police Task Force were Bob and Kay Imbornoni. "The amount of police they were budgeting for was not really adequate," Mrs. Imbornoni said. "I think if you need more policemen, the cost is going to go up."
Resident Joe Galante, a member of the Hometown Party, the party to which Trustee Fairgrieve and Trustee Cusato belong, was also against the village police department. Galante felt questions regarding the tax impact to residents were not answered. Galante said he has nothing against the police task force the mayor appointed, but felt an analysis by an independent consultant may have given people more confidence.
Fairgrieve had pushed for a study to be done by an outside consultant. The Center for Governmental Research (CGR) offered to do the study for $112,000. However, Mayor Jack M. Martins, Deputy Mayor Larry Werther and Trustee John DaVanzo voted against the hiring of the firm since they felt the task force members, which included John Curry, Walter Crosby, Ed Curran, Ray Leonhard, Tom Rudolph, Mike Spa, Jim LaMonica and Scott Straus were better qualified to do the study.
After the results of the referendum were made known Tuesday night, staunch supporters of the village police department proposal seemed dejected but still gave Mayor Martins, Deputy Mayor Werther and Trustee DaVanzo a standing ovation for voting to hold the referendum and giving residents a choice.
Mayor Martins proposed looking into a village police department three years ago in response to what he felt was the lack of police presence in the village. But the mayor maintained that residents would have the opportunity to decide the issue and if anyone felt there wasn't enough information or wasn't comfortable with the idea, he or she could vote against it. As it turns out, a large majority of those who voted didn't feel comfortable with the idea of a village police force.
Now that the vote has occurred, Mayor Martins believes the issue has been settled. At last week's meeting to certify the vote, he said that the people have clearly spoken. Although some members of the community were divided on the issue, he urged both sides to now work together for the betterment of the village. "We, as a village, are better than our fragmented parts," he said.
Mayor Martins later said though that despite the results of the referendum, the fact still remains that the village taxpayers are still paying $6.7 million for patrol from the county police's 3rd Precinct, which, according to the task force's report, amounted to three cars.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Jim Lawrence and Nassau Police 3rd Precinct Inspector Robert Turk argued during the village police hearing process that the county could bring in additional cars from the precinct to Mineola if an incident should arise.
Still, Mayor Martins doesn't believe the village taxpayers are getting their monies worth, but will not further explore a village police force since the residents have voted the idea town. "The problem is still there," he said. "Right now, I would suggest that Mr. Cusato and Mrs. Fairgrieve come up with a solution that involved more than just saying 'no' [to a village police force] and does not merely duplicate my efforts of asking the county for more coverage."
Mayor Martins has met with county officials in the past to get more police coverage but was not successful in getting the county to commit more patrol cars to Mineola. However, some residents believe that the police dedicated more officers to the village during the time a village police force was being discussed.
Trustee Fairgrieve doesn't agree with the assessment that there are major issues in Mineola that would require a police force. However, she said that the people have chosen Nassau County as its police force so the board should work with the county department.
"I don't necessarily agree that there's a real problem but I think the board should meet with them [Commissioner Lawrence and Inspector Turk] and depending on what's going on at the time, work in interests of Mineola to get what's best for Mineola. I think they're limited because I know the mayor had talks with the commissioner beforehand," she said. "I don't think there's that much of a problem but definitely things happen at certain times and I think it would be best that the board met with them regularly."
Trustee Fairgrieve also suggested Inspector Turk or a representative from the 3rd Precinct attend a village public meeting perhaps once a month so residents can voice their concerns. "I think Inspector Turk or his representatives should be more involved in the meetings," she said.