Funding from Suffolk County to provide emergency service responses got a boost recently, as county legislators unanimously passed a measure which will give non-county-based response units a percentage share of county revenues in future budget cycles.
Previously negotiated each budget cycle, the amount coming to Riverhead and Southold-based public safety access points (as well as eight others), as the units are called, will now bring in a certain percentage based on the amount of revenue coming in.
“Whenever we can get something in the county charter that guarantees a fair share for the area, that’s a good thing,” said Legislator Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, who sponsored the bill. North Fork Legislator Al Krupski, D-Cutchogue, was one of the bill’s four co-sponsors.
“The way county government is set up, with 16 legislators from up west and only two out east, we don’t want to get into constant budget battles. So this is much better moving forward.”
The legislation comes in the wake of an audit by County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki on the county’s revenue sharing program for non-county PSAPs, which includes four on the South Fork, as well as others in Amityville, Smithtown, Babylon and Northport Village. All non-county PSAPs will receive no less than 20 percent of the revenue tied to funding the services.
PSAPs pick up emergency calls and dispatch to the proper emergency responding unit, whether it’s fire, police or ambulance. Throughout most of the county, the duties are handled by Suffolk County Police Department or Fire Rescue and Emergency Services, though having locally-based units is important in vital situations, Mr. Schneiderman said.
“It’s good, because those people know the area well,” he said. “I’d be nervous about someone in Yaphank picking up a 911 call for someone out of Montauk. So it’s good to have these somewhat decentralized. But it’s expensive to maintain them.”
Previously, Mr. Schneiderman said, funding from the county was tied to making equipment upgrades. The new legislation allows local PSAPs to use the funds for personnel as well moving forward. He said it should provide the non-county stations about $1.6 million in total next year – nearly double its take this year – to be parceled out among the PSAPs as they see fit.
“The idea is to guarantee faster, more accurate response times,” he said. “To give them adequate personnel and equipment to do their duty as best as possible.”
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the legislation likely wouldn’t add too much to his budget and considering the cost for the high-tech equipment, it wouldn’t add “anything major.”
“All this stuff is so expensive, but it gives us a little more wiggle room,” said Mr. Hegermiller. “But it beats [the amount of money coming from the county] going down.”