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Orchard Park board discusses police issue in closed session

The future of police and emergency services has been the water cooler and coffee shop conversation subject in Orchard Park since the results of a study were released two weeks ago.

Town Board members talked about it too, Wednesday night, discussing contracting for services with Erie County. But the public couldn't hear what they said, because it was in a closed executive session.

Town Attorney Leonard Berkowitz said the board was talking about contractual and personnel issues, two items allowed to be discussed behind closed doors under state law.

Berkowitz and Councilwoman Nan Ackerman briefed the board about a two-hour meeting they had Wednesday with County Executive Chris Collins, Sheriff Timothy Howard and Sean Beiter, the town's labor attorney. Ackerman said the discussion was about the cost of services and the availability of services.

"My objective was to develop a list of items to be included in a memorandum of understanding," Ackerman said before the board went into executive session.

The session took place before the board's regular meeting Wednesday and continued after the regular meeting.

Town Board members and residents are reviewing the study by the International City/County Management Association, which recommends Orchard Park consider merging some or all police services with another police force. The study has members of the Police Department and dispatchers concerned for their future. It also prompted the resignation of the town's disaster coordinator, William Hanrahan.

In his resignation letter to Town Supervisor Janis Colarusso, Hanrahan, a police lieutenant and member of Windom Volunteer Fire Company, said Colarusso does not have the proper understanding or appreciation for emergency management or emergency service functions. He also said her "indifference" for public safety and the safety of the emergency services personnel led to his decision.

Colarusso said she does not have the same broad knowledge that Hanrahan does but is committed to the safety of the public. She said if the proper paperwork is not completed, and the town needed to call for federal emergency services reimbursement, it would not receive it.

"As of last week that paperwork was not completed, until I stepped in and formulated a committee," she said.

The board accepted his resignation with regret, and with thanks for his contributions to the town.

Board members appointed Richard Mrugalski of the Engineering Department, who has been on the disaster committee, as chairman.

Board members also said Wednesday that next year's town budget will require "thinking outside the box" and will probably surprise some with the choices to be made on how to spend the money.