Erie County officials, ordered to produce a four-year financial plan, have penciled in a charge to towns for Sheriff's Department road patrols, reviving a debate between town and county leaders over who pays for police protection.
Early work sheets obtained by The Buffalo News show that county officials also contemplate a charge for parking at county-owned parks and possibly raising other fees for park services to bring in $3 million more next year.

The increases need County Legislature consent, but the stakes are high if the Giambra administration includes the fees in its final four-year plan and lawmakers reject them. In that case, revenues would not meet expenses, so the new state-appointed control board could then flex its muscles to rein in spending and force the hands of elected leaders.

With the control board expecting the four-year forecast by Oct. 1, the debate over whether outlying towns should pay extra to rely primarily on sheriff's patrols will rage during political primary season. Legislators would vote on the plan in mid-September.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra says that it is unfair for residents in some towns to pay for sheriff's patrols they rarely use because they also finance their own full-time police departments. He says residents in roughly 15 outlying towns rely primarily on sheriff's deputies - Clarence, Elma and Grand Island among them - and pay nothing extra.

The new work sheets show that county officials assume they could collect $4.2 million from towns for Sheriff's Department patrols, roughly the entire cost for sheriff's patrols authorized in the austere 2005 budget.