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Voter turnout was unusually heavy early today as Village of Lancaster residents went to the polls to settle the longtime controversy over whether they need their own police force.

Officials said the controversy was the hottest issue to hit the village in more than 20 years, and the early turnout reflected that.

Polls opened at 6:30 a.m., and by 8 a.m., 480 voters -- or 7 percent of those eligible -- had cast ballots.

Ronald E. Wisz, village clerk-treasurer, said more than 75 percent of the eligible voters could turn out by the time polls close at 9 p.m. In most village elections, voter participation is less than 50 percent.

The issue on the ballot is whether the village should abolish its 16-member police force Dec. 31 and rely instead on the town Police Department. That question has been debated for years but was never before put on the ballot, Wisz said.

Proponents of abolishing the department -- including Mayor Arthur K. Posluszny -- say the police force is a major drain on village taxpayers and provides services that could be performed by the town. Posluszny estimated that abolishing the department would save the average taxpayer $168 a year.

Those seeking to retain the police force say it provides a level of service that cannot be duplicated by the town, and question Posluszny's cost estimate.

The issue was placed on the ballot after the Village Board voted 4-3 to abolish the department, subject to voter approval.

It has generated petition drives, political charges and counter-charges, and larger questions about the need for village government.

"The people who are against it (the move to eliminate the police force) are the most visible," Wisz said. "It's just a question of whether there's a silent majority out there or not."

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