Middle Ground (8/23/12)


The rhetoric that has emerged in the discussion about Sag Harbor Village and the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association (PBA)’s frozen contract negotiation is troubling. Neither side appears willing to compromise in what is becoming a polarizing debate in a village that has prided itself on retaining a sense of community which is lost in many places.

We truly believe, when it comes to Sag Harbor Village at least, it does not have to be this way.

The truth is, we are not opposed to the Sag Harbor PBA being granted a raise, and perhaps even a generous one at that. That being said, there are larger issues looming, and not just in terms of the police department. In many municipal and school environments, the cost of funding expensive pension and health programs — lifetime in many cases — threatens to cost us and our children a fortune in the future.

The reality is most people do not have comprehensive pension or retirement plans in this day and age. Particularly since the market crashed in 2008, most American businesses are also unable to afford elaborate health insurance plans as well.

We believe that our police deserve these benefits; but we also believe it is time to start a conversation about members paying into these programs, as most people lucky enough to have retirement and health benefits already do.

Whether this is done only with new hires moving forward, or by requiring a minimal percentage from each officer to ease the sting at first, is not as critical to us as simply starting the dialogue. The reality is, it is these long-term costs that are carried after an officer retires – and not their salaries per se – that have the potential of keeping a police department in Sag Harbor Village financially unsustainable.

We know immediately the issue that will be raised – parity. The problem with parity is that eventually, as each agency points to the contract a neighboring agency has, this creates an increasing spiral upwards of benefits that potentially can outweigh what we can afford to pay in taxes as a community.

Again, this is not to say that our police officers – who work odd hours, don bullet proof vests and strap a gun on every day – are not worthy of benefits. They are, but in this financial climate it is time for us to start talking about contributions.

All of this said, we would also like to say we are opposed to any village plan that involves disbanding the Sag Harbor Village Police Department.

The reality is these men and women are an integral part of our community and have an obvious care and love for Sag Harbor. They provide critical care and service, in terms of crime prevention, investigations and responding to literally every call – no matter its perceived value – that comes through its headquarters.

Whether we like it or not, Sag Harbor is more than just a community – it is a resort destination with an economy tied to that fact. We all depend on a smooth running business district and the sense that we reside in a safe environment. In Sag Harbor, people meander the streets late into the evening without too much worry and there is a lot to be said for all of this. The police play a large roll in the quality of life we have here and that is not something we can take away from them.

It has been disheartening seeing both sides of this debate refusing to budge. We do believe it is time for both sides to come to the table and hammer out a contract we can all live with. Likely it will not be a contract that gives all things to all people, but in this climate frankly it cannot be.

The village should consider raising its offer in terms of a salary, just as the PBA needs to start making concessions.