By DAN GUZEWICH Staff writer
A key legislative panel has thrown its weight behind a funding proposal for Oneida County to keep Utica police involved in the county Drug Task Force.
The Board of Legislators’ Public Safety Committee voted unanimously 9-0, with two absences, Wednesday to allow District Attorney Scott D. McNamara to use $78,000 from his drug money forfeiture account so the city police can restore supervisory positions that allow the department to continue to participate in the task force — something that was ended as a result of cuts contained in Utica’s 2012-13 budget. The transfer is likely to receive the needed approval from the full board at its June 13 meeting.
Still pending is legislative approval for using $22,000 from the county Department of Social Services’ budget so the Utica police continue as a member of the Child Advocacy Center, the group tasked with helping to bring child molesters to justice.
Utica Police Chief Mark Williams initially pulled his department from both groups earlier this year to minimize cuts elsewhere in his budget. Utica laid off 17 members of its police department.
Both allocations need approval from the Board of Legislators.
The Utica Common Council has already passed a $100,000 agreement with the county that would restore police personnel to departmental supervisory positions so that membership in the drug task force and Child Advocacy Center can continue.
On Wednesday, county legislators were told by the district attorney’s office that the Utica police were an essential part of the multi-agency anti-drug effort.
"The Utica Police Department is the big toe on the foot of the drug task force," said Assistant District Attorney Grant J. Garramone, who is head of the narcotics bureau.
He said task force needs Utica’s participation and the drug trafficking information its officers learn from the streets . He predicted that drug dealers will step up activity locally if there is less surveillance of drug activity and fewer drug buys by undercover officers.
"It’s not about the City of Utica. It’s about the County of Oneida," County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. told the panel.
He was among the county officials who worked out the proposal to retain Utica’s involvement with the task force and Child Advocacy Center.
"These are two of the largest areas we deal with in terms of crime in this county," he said.
While committee members supported the proposal as a benefit for the entire county, several expressed concern about county’s largest city not contributing financially to the drug task force while others questioned whether the county money was being used to restore raises that had been eliminated.
"It certainly offends me...," said Legislator Patrick H. Brennan, R-3, Marshall, but added that illegal drugs are not only a problem in Utica.
"This is all of our communities," he said.
This view was shared by other legislators.
"This is an investment in Oneida County," said lawmaker Brian D. Miller, R-16, New Hartford. "The drug task force has to stay whole."
The agreement doesn’t increase the overall number of Utica officers but moves five of them into higher positions and puts two back on the drug task force.