Erie County towns and villages facing extra charges for sheriff's patrol services argue that the practice already has been ruled out by the state comptroller's office.

"There is no statutory authority for a county to charge back the cost of a sheriff's road patrol to particular municipalities within that county," states a 1993 opinion of the state comptroller.

Nineteen towns and villages and the Seneca Nation of Indians have been reacting to a May 25 letter from County Executive Joel A. Giambra asking them to pay a third of the cost of providing patrol services to their communities next year. The full charges would be phased in over three years.

Grand Island Town Supervisor Peter A. McMahon said that in addition to the comptroller's opinion that counties may not charge towns for the service, there is another constitutional issue. The sheriff acts as the "conservator of the peace within the county," according to the state constitution. McMahon believes that means the county must provide the resources for the Sheriff's Department to answer 911 calls.

"It's impossible or inconceivable for me how a sheriff could conserve the peace if he doesn't have anyone to do it," McMahon said.
The communities were asked to respond to the county by Saturday. Most are expected to decline to sign a contract with the county to pay for the service. Springville already has a contract with the Sheriff's Department for 20 hours of dedicated service, and has been told that it was sent a letter by mistake.

Giambra notes that charging the towns and villages for the patrol service was included in the four-year plan approved by him and the County Legislature.