Though West Seneca dug deep for police, recognition of donations is at issue - The Buffalo News

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Though West Seneca dug deep for police, recognition of donations is at issue

When work is completed on the long-awaited $1.2 million renovation and expansion of the West Seneca Police Department, it won’t be obvious who did what. Various contractors handled the electrical, mechanical, plumbing and general contracting work, and municipal employees tackled some jobs themselves.

But when it comes to the hundreds of people and businesses who contributed approximately $23,500 during a grass-roots campaign to facilitate expansion, organizers want to make sure donors get their due.

Some new furnishings and equipment already have been purchased with money donated during that unprecedented show of community support for the Police Department a decade ago, when the cramped quarters in Town Hall were the subject of talk but no action.

After the construction dust settles, organizers of that campaign want to make sure those donors are recognized.

Town Board members, however, are not ready to commit, calling the idea premature, given that the project won’t be finished for several months.

For years, the department’s police and civilian personnel – which now total close to 100 – were crammed in 4,900 square feet on the first floor of the building’s southern end. Conditions were so tight that eight lieutenants shared a single office measuring 64 square feet.

As construction continues on a sally port and separate elevator for the secure transport of prisoners, there still is the potential for danger as they are escorted through public spaces.

Participation in the department’s Citizen Police Academy, which provides residents a close-up view of police work, brought those conditions to light for Frank Boncore and his wife, Maureen Obenauer.

“The station is what got me,” said Boncore. “How the average person would work in conditions like that is beyond me. We thought, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’ ”

They teamed up with Lou Giordano, a detective working in those conditions, to form the Committee for Police Facility Expansion. Then-Police Chief Edward F. Gehen kept his distance, serving in a support and advisory capacity.

A mass mailing, seeking donations to get expansion plans rolling, was the main event.

“The response was phenomenal,” said Obenauer. “We didn’t realize how important this was to the community. The donations ranged from a dollar to $500.”

Members of the community demonstrated the high regard they had for the police.

“We had the little letters that said, ‘We wish we could do more,’ ” Gehen said. “It’s humbling.”

Money donated during the fundraising campaign, held between 2003 and 2005, were deposited in a trust account controlled by town officials. That money has nothing to do with the capital project in progress.

Earlier this year, approximately $17,000 in trust money was used to buy chairs and desk-top computers for the Detective Bureau, as well as a copying machine.

“The trust fund has been used very well; it’s really appreciated,” said Police Chief Daniel M. Denz, who succeeded Gehen last spring.

The actual renovations and expansion – funded, in large part, by grants pursued by Town Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan – should be done by early next year. When that happens, committee members want to make sure community donors get the credit they deserve.

No promises of recognition were made to donors, nor were conditions attached to the money put into the town’s hands through the trust – other than to facilitate expansion.

“What we are trying to do is give credit to individuals; their own personal money that was put into this project,” said Giordano, who retired from the department in 2004.

The committee has proposed a plaque, listing each of the 800-plus donors, to be placed in a public location of the renovated department. There’s still money for it in the trust, they say, and they want it made sooner rather than later.

Members of the current Town Board support the plaque idea but are undecided about its content and don’t share the committee’s sense of urgency about getting it done.

“That is so far down the road,” Meegan said. “There are so many big, big issues that need to be taken care of. It’s not a priority at this point.”

Denz has been a go-between, dealing separately with the two sides. There’s no resolution in sight.

“It’s going to be a matter of how is that recognition done, what is the best use of the resources,” he said.


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