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Input sought on joint police-fire idea

Olean aldermen want to seek input from various sectors on the formation of a combined police and fire Emergency Services Organization to take over public safety functions in the city within five years.

The effort would take place within the framework of the city's seven-member Public Safety Committee, but aldermen would ask the public to bring ideas and would draw on participation of police officers, firefighters, the police and fire chiefs and the Public Works Department director.

The proposal, sponsored by Ward 2 Alderman Michael Kayes, received the unanimous consent of the members of the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday night and could be considered for formal acceptance by the Common Council as soon as next week.

He described his plan for an exploratory group to meet regularly and collect ideas.

"Should we house police and fire under one roof? Should there be one central facility [in a location that provides access to the whole city]?" said Kayes after the committee session.

Besides features needed by police and fire agencies, such a facility might also accommodate some Public Works Department storage and activities.

The steep cost of police and fire budgets were a key issue during the weeks leading up to last week's $13.9 million budget passage for the fiscal year beginning June 1. Some aldermen and residents advocated closing one of the city's two fire houses to cut costs, but others opposed the idea as too risky due to railroad tracks that could cut off response teams. Also at issue were the as-yet-to-be-settled negotiations for a new firefighters union contract and a newly signed police union contract containing a two-year wage freeze.

Kayes said the proposal is prompted by the issues raised during budget talks but he had been thinking about it before that time. He said he envisions seeking grants for homeland security funding to help pay for the new Emergency Services Organization.

During the Council meeting, the aldermen unanimously approved a resolution supporting the New York Conference of Mayors' City Budget Survey results, in which only 29 percent of the responding cities reported deteriorating financial conditions, and an average 4.6 percent increase in property tax rates was reported.

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