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Home » Cayuga County » Public Safety Staffing vs. County Office Building: Sheriff Schenck Raises Alarm Over Possible Cuts

Public Safety Staffing vs. County Office Building: Sheriff Schenck Raises Alarm Over Possible Cuts

  • / Updated:
  • Josh Durso 

Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck is warning residents about potential budget cuts to public safety brought on by the need to address costly repairs at the county’s office building.

In January, the Cayuga County Office Building suffered a critical failure of its roof after a wind storm. That situation prompted a temporary closure of the facility. At the time, Legislature Chair Aileen McNabb-Coleman said the county’s governing body would need to prioritize an overhaul of the aging structure — something that had been put off in the past. As recently as 2023 the Legislature considered a proposal to expand and address critical issues with the nearly 60-year-old building. It had a $35 million price tag and was not moved forward.

Then in late-May it was announced that the office building would be closed again for one week as crews worked to address a safety concern. Workers were moved to remote operations temporarily, until the decision was made less than a week later to close for the rest of summer. “We have decided to keep the Cayuga County Office Building fully closed until the roof repair is completed, estimated for the end of August,” McNabb-Coleman said at the time, promising updates on the structure’s status.

Then in mid-June the County announced that the DMV would move to the public safety building. County Clerk Brian Scanlan told residents that walk-ins and appointments would be accepted.

Throughout this time, Sheriff Schenck had been making requests to fill critical positions within the sheriff’s office. Those efforts to fill positions were blocked by the Legislature’s majority. As frustration grew, the Sheriff weighed his options, and after a meeting on Tuesday (June 25) where the Legislature tabled all new hires and open positions, sat down to pen a letter.

A Breaking Point As Positions Were Left Vacant

Schenck expressed concerns about county government prioritizing spending cuts over public safety emphasizing the need to maintaining road patrol coverage, filling critical positions, and responding to emergencies efficiently. He was a guest on Inside the FLX Thursday discussing the letter in-depth. “Our county should make public safety spending a top priority,” the Sheriff explained. “It should be priority #1 for any municipality and that’s my position. I put this letter out there to educate the community. I think it’s important for our community to know what’s going on here in county government. That there are certain legislators that feel we should cut our budget at the sheriff’s office before looking at all other options for cutting throughout the county. I want the public to understand that.”

Schenck said that while there are some legislators who share his opinion and have been supportive — there isn’t a majority. “I’ve gotten to the point where they’ve tabled budgeted hires for 2024 another month, and I’m very concerned that they’re poised to cut funding further. It appears they’re heading that direction.”

Among the Sheriff’s greatest concerns with not moving forward — staff shortages in road patrol and the 911 center. “Tuesday night they even tabled the filling of a 911 dispatcher position, and you know, the 911 center doesn’t really have any extra staff to meet the challenges they’re facing, so we can’t afford to go backwards,” he continued. “I just want the county to look at public safety as a priority.”

What Happens If Positions Are Left Unfilled?

Sheriff Schenck says leaving positions on road patrol or the 911 center vacant would further exacerbate existing problems. “We already receive a lot of requests from people asking us to provide additional traffic enforcement. We struggle there because we don’t have enough cars to get people out there to do that proactive enforcement. But our navigation division has seen challenges this year — getting our boats out on the water with a lack of staff.”

He says further budget cuts would only make those situations more difficult. He’s also worried about what could happen if the sheriff’s office is left short-staffed for an extended period of time. “When we start eliminating proactive enforcement we star to see crime spikes or accidents increase and we just don’t want to see that. Proactive enforcement is very important.”

Another area of concern is potential overtime costs that come with a short-staffed sheriff’s office. “If budget cuts are made and positions are left open we may need to hold staff over if we don’t have enough bodies out there on the next shift,” Sheriff Schenck continued. “We’re already seeing some pressures on our overtime budget for just that reason. Realistically right now, we don’t have enough road patrol deputies out there. We do need more. And I’m not asking for additional people beyond what I budgeted for this year. I’m just looking to fill the positions that were budgeted. But we do have a significant amount of overtime, not only on our road on the road patrol division, but in the jail. And that will certainly become an issue because we we have to meet those emergency needs.”

The Goal Right Now Is Public Awareness

Legislature Chair McNabb-Coleman provided an update on the situation in a statement to “At the June Legislature meeting, requests to fill vacant positions from several county departments were tabled to the July Legislature meeting during which time County Finance and Budget officials are working to update the Legislature on the 2024 budget performance and 2025 budget projections,” she said.

For Sheriff Schenck the goal is public awareness. He expressed optimism that the Legislature would see public safety as a priority and allow his team to get to full-strength before making cuts. “I just want the public to understand where we’re at,” he said. “I’m an elected sheriff and the public has entrusted me with understanding the needs of my department to do the job effectively. I have the responsibility to the people of Cayuga County to do that effectively. If the legislature goes and does a thorough look throughout the county and determines where other things could potentially be cut and they come back to us with no other option — then I will understand. But there needs to be some due diligence.”