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Massena mayor says village might stop providing security for airport

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MASSENA — Mayor James F. Hidy said he is prepared to stop sending village police officers to the airport to provide federally mandated security details at the end of the month unless the town agrees to pay the village for the expense, about $53,000 this year.

“Providing such service has become cost prohibitive to the village police department,” Mr. Hidy wrote in an Aug. 4 letter to Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray.

The letter included a copy of a reimbursement agreement that Mr. Hidy wants the Town Council to accept, containing a cost analysis done by Police Chief Timmy J. Currier.

Mr. Currier said that the department is responsible for one hour of overtime each day, as a morning flight at Massena International Airport coincides with a shift change.

To provide coverage for other flights, police spend 4.5 hours per day at the airport, he said.

The combined cost will be $52,890.33 for airport security this year, the chief said.

Mr. Hidy noted the village has not been reimbursed for security expenses for the past year.

Smaller airports had been awarded grant money to help pay for the post-Sept. 11 mandate, but last year the Transportation Security Administration changed the way it calculated the grants, reducing both the estimated number of hours an officer needed to work and the amount each officer would be paid.

Town bookkeeper Nancy Fregoe said in December that the last check the town had received from the TSA represented a 64 percent reduction in reimbursement payments since August 2010.

Given TSA’s new reimbursement rate, the town should receive $25,141.20, leaving it responsible for $27,749.13, according to Mr. Currier.

Town Councilman John F. Macaulay said that the town should not have to pay overtime for the security detail.

“That job is being done every day. It’s a part of the schedule,” he said. “I do not agree that a routine job these guys are doing should be conducive to an overtime rate.”

Councilman Albert N. Nicola agreed. “They’re already on duty,” he said.

Mr. Hidy disputed the notion that the airport detail is a routine task.

“The primary focus of the Massena Police Department is to protect and serve contractually within the village limits,” the mayor said. “The service was extended to the town airport through an agreement to be paid accordingly.”

Mr. Hidy also said that overtime is regularly needed and that when village police officers are at the airport, village residents are at greater risk.

“With the amount of calls that our police department receives, we cannot afford to have a policeman standing idly at the airport,” he said.

Mr. Currier said there have been instances when police response has been delayed while an officer was at the airport, outside the village.

Mr. Hidy said that if Town Council members don’t want to sign the agreement with the village, they should seek security coverage elsewhere. He said he has urged the town supervisor to approach state police, the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department or the Border Patrol to discuss providing coverage.

As the Town Council has no meeting scheduled by Sept. 30, Mr. Gray said, “We may need to make other arrangements in the interim, but I don’t know what those are.”

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