Public safety measures fail in Ogdensburg

Ogdensburg City Hall, 330 Ford St. Matt Curatolo/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — City Council on Monday night voted against two resolutions aimed at changing how public safety is offered in Ogdensburg.

The first of the two resolutions instructed City Manager Stephen P. Jellie to come up with plans for the fire department to be converted to a part professional, part volunteer department starting in 2023.

Councilor John A. Rishe began the discussion with concerns about whether positions could be filled by volunteers under the contract the city has with the Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters Local 1799, noting he was interested to see what the Court of Appeals decides.

“I am in favor of bringing in different supplemental assistance as a way to reduce cost because the city continues to get smaller and smaller,” Mr. Rishe said. “We have reduced, we were at 27, I think we should be somewhere between 18 or 19. I just don’t think it’s a good time to pass this right now.”

Mr. Jellie disagreed.

“Voting no for a study,” the city manager said. “Voting no for an analysis to potentially save this city money. Taking a pass once again on the potential to save the city money. Relegating ourselves only to ... raising taxes, cutting more positions in 2023, or taking fund balance. That’s what we’re relegating to.”

Mr. Jellie added that the possibility that the Court of Appeals would take the case has no bearing on whether a study should be pursued.

“We have a contract that goes through 2026 and if it says that their representatives fill those open spots,” said Mr. Rishe. “I would like a legal opinion to say whether or not volunteers can fill those slots.”

Mayor Jeffery M. Skelly raised points about public safety and said he does not understand why anyone would vote against having more firefighters within the city, even if they were volunteers.

Councilor Daniel E. Skamperle said Mr. Rishe made good points about the contract and would like to look into those concerns before voting for the resolution.

“We need to find a way to add augmentation force to the fire department,” said Mr. Jellie. “We can’t sustain with 16, we won’t sustain with 20 for very long.”

Mr. Jellie then ended the discussion and urged the council to make a decision.

The resolution failed in a 4-3 vote, with Mr. Skamperle, Mr. Rishe, Michael B. Powers and Nichole L. Kennedy voting against it and Mr. Skelly, Steven M. Fisher and William B. Dillabough voting for it.

The second resolution, regarding policing, stated “the City Manager is hereby directed to develop a formal plan to request the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office submit a proposal to assume law enforcement services in the City in Ogdensburg by Aug. 1, 2022.”

Mr. Skelly began the discussion by expressing his support for the resolution.

“We will run out of money down the road for the police department and for the fire department,” Mr. Skelly said. “I think we could get better public safety from this and I think it’s a good thing to look at and see if other villages would consider this.”

Mr. Jellie echoed Mr. Skelly’s point about reaching out to other villages to join in on the resolution.

“I’m definitely open to the idea but it’s a little too early yet,” Mr. Skamperle said.

The discussion closed with Mr. Powers proposing the possibility of Mr. Jellie sitting down with the sheriff’s department and county leaders before bringing it back to the council.

The second resolution was denied in a 4-3 vote, with Mr. Skamperle, Mr. Powers, Mrs. Kennedy, and Mr. Rishe voting against it and Mr. Skelly, Mr. Fisher, and Mr. Dillabough voting for it.

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