What was supposed to be a routine hire of a Lancaster police officer to succeed a patrolman promoted to lieutenant turned into a debate about a whether the 49-member police force should stay at its current staffing level to address crime.
Nearly 25 police officers lined the perimeter of the board’s meeting room. Police Chief Gerald J. Gill Jr. attended, as well.
And following a 30-minute closed-door meeting, board members emerged and approved the lieutenant promotion and the hiring of a new officer – over the objections of the board’s lone Republican, Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli.
The Town Board promoted Officer Jonathan C. Ziders to the rank of lieutenant following the retirement of Lt. John A. Robinson III. That vacancy resulted in the hiring of Brett M. Carcaci. Both appointments were retroactive to Jan. 19.
Ziders will earn about $77,000 after his first year as lieutenant, while Carcaci, 25, will start at $48,000 as a new patrolman. He first must go through six months of training at the Police Academy and 12 weeks of on-the-job training.
But the personnel moves triggered a debate about police service in the community.
“A lot of decision making goes into whether to fill this vacancy,” said Councilman John M. Abraham Jr. “We are a growing community, and we should not cut services. Crime is growing, as we grow.”
Abraham cited problems with prostitution in the north end of town at local hotels, as well as an upswing in drug issues throughout the town, on top of shoplifting at retail stores along Transit Road.
In addition, Abraham cited traffic problems from the town’s growth and a spurt in apartment developments. “The manpower is not there to tackle the traffic issues as the town grows out,” he said.
In a later interview, Abraham said: “I could not in good conscience not vote to fill a position on the force when there’s a necessity for police.”
Others on the board, though they voted for the personnel moves, remain concerned since the town and Cayuga Club Police Benevolent Association are expected to head toward arbitration sometime in March. The police have been working without a contract with the town since Dec. 31, 2011.
“I certainly value the services of this town, but I do have concerns with pending arbitration,” Councilman Mark S. Aquino said. “I hope we’ll be able to retain this (new) officer.”
Councilman Ronald Ruffino Sr. noted that if arbitration proceedings don’t turn out well for the town, the new officer would be the first to be laid off.
“If arbitration goes against us, our hands may be tied,” he said.
Fudoli said he supported Carcaci, a Lancaster native, but was worried about the impending arbitration.
“Hiring during arbitration doesn’t usually bode well,” Fudoli said. “I presented solutions to the board, but unfortunately, I was shot down.”
Fudoli voted against hiring Carcaci.
“It is strictly financial and is not personal,” Fudoli said. “There is no wiggle room for any arbitrator. If we cannot pay for him, we may lose more than one officer.”