Politics played a major part in the decisive vote against eliminating the Village of Lancaster Police Department, observers said Wednesday.
Most who commented agreed that continuing the village police force will require higher taxes, but they disagreed on how much.
A commanding 63 percent of the vote in a heavy turnout Tuesday rejected the proposal to abolish the police force Dec. 31 and transfer the police function to the Town of Lancaster.
"At some point it got beyond the police issue," said Second Ward Trustee Darlene L. Humphrey of the Community Pride Party, who led the successful campaign to defeat the proposal.
"It was a vote against the mayor," she said, referring to Arthur K. Posluszny, whose Independent Party majority on the Village Board favored the proposal.
Posluszny denied her contention, but conceded that issues other than police protection clouded the vote. "She worked very hard to try to make me appear to be waging a vendetta against the Police Department," he said.
"There was some muddling of the issues," said Lancaster Supervisor Stanley J. Keysa, a village resident who had remained neutral. "I'm not sure they (voters) all voted on the same issue."
Former Trustee Jerome F. Collins, Posluszny's People's Party opponent in the 1989 mayoral election, said he believes Posluszny's political tactics contributed to the defeat.
Collins pointed to friction between the administration and the Fire Department over the proposal and the speed with which the administration pursued its objective. The referendum came two months after disbanding the force was proposed.
"A more deliberate approach might have been more successful," Collins said, noting he signed a petition calling for a referendum but took no active role in the campaign.
"People weren't sure what police protection they would have" without a village department, said First Ward Trustee Dennis E. Przykuta, the sole People's Party member on the Village Board.
Posluszny and Przykuta agreed that continuing the department will cause a major tax increase.
"It's going to be a big bullet to bite," Przykuta said. "People assume the financial aspect is negligible. It's not."
The village has a static tax base, and costs have been cut as far as they can, he said. The village's stalemated contract talks with the police union have gone to binding arbitration as provided by state law, and the village probably will be forced to pay for major raises, he said.
"People want a local police force, and they want a manageable tax rate," Posluszny said. "They can't have it both ways."
Mrs. Humphrey predicted a tax increase, but added: "there is no need to see a dramatic increase. Our job becomes more difficult. It's not impossible to keep expenditures in line."
The state has agreed to conduct a study, which could take a year or more, on a possible merger of the town and village police departments. Keysa says the village now must let the state know if it should proceed with the study or if Tuesday's vote makes it unnecessary.
Trustees Humphrey and Przykuta favor having the state study done.
"I don't think the people voted 'no' to a merger," Mrs. Humphrey said. "They voted against abolition with no facts."
Posluszny said he doubts the board's majority would want to proceed with the merger study because of the decisiveness of the vote. The next couple of weeks will allow time for reflection before a decision is made, he said.
Przykuta said he would like to see an advisory, non-binding question on the November ballot allowing voters in both the village and the town to express their preference on a merger of the departments.