If the "Save Our Police" signs and 6,000 orange ribbons in downtown Lancaster are any indication, Tuesday's referendum to abolish the village Police Department may be headed for trouble.
The referendum calls for the town Police Department to take over police protection Jan. 1.
More than 50 vehicles decked in orange ribbons and balloons took part in a horn-honking demonstration through village streets Sunday afternoon in the rain. One of the organizers, Village Trustee Darlene L. Humphrey, said the procession started at 12:30 p.m. "and it just kind of grew and grew" by 2 p.m.
But Mayor Arthur K. Posluszny wasn't impressed.
"This is nothing new," he said. "Every time there is a village election, I find that the group that happens to be my opposition has exactly the same kind of motorcade. I was amused to see a Village of Hamburg police car. It makes you wonder whether you've got local types or what."
Posluszny said 6,600 registered village voters can decide the issue at a dozen polling places Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
"I continue to get a steady stream of input from people who claim to be in support of the abolition," the mayor said. "They see the sense of consolidating. I am cautiously optimistic."
But Jim and Barbara Perry, who drove in the motorcade, said a groundswell of opposition has materialized, and they are not surprised.
"You could smell it coming down," Perry said. "All the orange ribbons just sprouted all over the place. People want their village police." "Once the police go," his wife added, "then the village courts go, and then everything else goes, and there'll be no more village."
Orange ribbons were tied to trees in front of stores near the Municipal Building at Central and Broadway. Patricia Holdsworth, owner of Pat's Village Restaurant across from the Lancaster Opera House, wants to retain the village force.
"They walk through the town at night, check the doors of the businesses and check the backyards," she said. "The town isn't going to give the village that personal service. They have such a big territory to cover."
The referendum has widened the rift between the mayor and the Fire Department, which is all volunteer but buys its equipment with village funds. The department's executive committee met Friday night to take a stand.
"They're supporting a 'no' vote," said Fire Chief Danny F. Fliss. "And I've been remaining neutral because of my position. I have a village vehicle as fire chief and there's been no ribbons on that. But there has been some criticism about my family having them on their private vehicles."
The Village Board recently denied Fliss' authorization to buy a new chief's car to replace his 1984 model. Instead, he was told, he could have a used police car if the local force is abolished.
"The patrol cars were purchased a year ago, and they're up for replacement this year," Fliss protested.
Posluszny said he was baffled by the Fire Department's opposition to consolidation, which might someday give it the Municipal Building space now used by the police.
"I frankly am hard-pressed to tell what figures into their position," he said. "The Fire Department has expressed an interest in occupying that space. They wanted a new fire hall last year. We couldn't agree to that. And we're just coming off an extensive renovation of the Municipal Building."
A recent letter from the Village Board's Independent Party majority -- headed by the mayor -- advised voters, "This is a historic opportunity for the taxpayers of this community to effect meaningful savings in their property tax bill without any loss of service."
Posluszny added Sunday: "Village taxes would be decreased by about $6.60 per thousand, and town taxes only for residents within the village would increase about $3.20 a thousand. The net change -- a $55,000 home would realize a reduction of about $170 a year in property taxes."
But this was disputed by Mrs. Humphrey of the minority Community Pride Party.
"At the same level of service they are not going to see a cost savings," she said. "I think most people feel that a few more dollars are worth it for the additional safety, protection and service."
Village Police Chief William E. Hastrich is urging voters to reject the proposal.
"There should be a study regarding the policing needs of the entire Lancaster community," he said. "The state Division of Criminal Justice Services will do this study at no cost to the town or village. We should have something more in place before we go ahead with it."
The mayor said there are misconceptions about police services the village would receive from the town. Though the town police station is on Pavement Road -- four miles from downtown Lancaster -- calls for police would be answered by a car already on patrol in the immediate village area, he said.
All ambulance calls already are answered by the town police dispatcher, and there would be no change in ambulance service, he added.