This village isn’t big enough for comfort canines

CHATHAM–The Village Board voted against allowing the village Police Department to have a comfort dog. Trustee Lenore Packet was the only board member who voted to support the program at Monday night’s board meeting.

In December the board heard from Police Chief Peter Volkmann that Deputy Chief Joe Alessi was at a comfort dog training with his dog and planned of offer the service to the part-time Police Department.

Chief Volkmann said at the time that there was no cost to the village for the program. Deputy Chief Alessi was paying for the training and he owns the dog. Board members had questions about the program and Mayor John Howe said he wanted to talk to the village attorney.

At the January board meeting, Trustee Melony Spock asked about what the program would look like. Chief Volkmann told her that the Albany Police Department has a therapy dog. The chief also said there would be an insurance cost for the dog.

At the February 10 meeting, Ms. Spock said she talked to the Albany Police Department and learned that they have two dogs and over 300 employees. She stressed that “they are a big company” and that from what they explained to her “a lot goes into” the dog program.
“I just feel we are too small,” she said of the Chatham Police Department. And she also said she didn’t feel like all the issues with having a comfort dog in village had been worked out.

Trustee Jaimee Boehme also pointed out the size of the Albany community and the small community the Chatham police serve. She said she just didn’t think that this village was the right place for the dog. She also brought up again her frustration with not knowing anything about the program until after Mr. Alessi was in Florida at the comfort dog training.

Ms. Packet asked Ms. Boehme and Ms. Spock if their issue with the dog was the cost. Mayor Howe said the cost would be insuring the dog, which would cost the same as the insurance coverage for a part-time police officer.

“It was all of that, the unknowns that we just don’t know yet,” Ms. Boehme said.
Mr. Alessi said the dog was his and he would transport it to the office. The dog would only come to the office when he was there, he told the board. The dog is not a police dog but would be used as a comfort dog for people who come to the police office and for the officers.

Mr. Alessi also said that he would sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) saying that he would cover the cost of food for the dog. He said that he had received offers of donations for the program that could cover the insurance costs.

The mayor asked for a motion to accept the therapy dog pursuant to an MOU with Deputy Chief Alessi. Mayor Howe, Ms. Spock, Ms. Boehme along with Trustee Pete Minahan voted no. Ms. Packet voted yes.

Also at the meeting:
• Mayor Howe said that current Village Treasurer Robert Patterson was hoping to transition out of the position and hand over the treasurer’s responsibilities to Village Clerk Debra Meyers. Mr. Patterson took over as treasurer in 2018 after the village had it’s records seized by the state’s Comptroller’s Office due to unpaid taxes. Mr. Howe said that Mr. Patterson would still audit the books. “He’s going to be pretty involved,” Mr. Howe said. Ms. Meyers said that Mr. Patterson wanted to “step back” from some duties like payroll and the budgeting process. Mayor Howe said the board would continue the conversation. As for the state Comptroller’s Office investigation into the village’s taxes, Mr. Howe said it was still an open investigation
• The board plans to hold a public hearing on decreasing the penalty fee on late water and sewer bills. The current fee is 10% and the mayor wants to reduce that to 2%. The board plans to hold a public hearing on the proposed law Thursday, February 24 at 6:30 p.m.
• The board is also in discussions with the Town of Chatham about a lift or elevator that would reach the second floor of the Tracy Memorial Village Hall. The village owns the building, which houses the village offices, the Police Department and the village court as well as the town court. The town pays rent to the village for the courtroom and office space
• Deputy Chief Alessi reminded residents that during snow emergencies there is no overnight parking on some streets. A list of streets where residents can park is on the village website,
• During his fire company report, Chief Paul Rideout said that questions about an incident at an office on Park Row January 27 should be directed to the State Police and but that the “substance found was not hazardous.” Police, fire companies and emergency medical personnel responded to the incident and the street was closed for several hours
• Chief Rideout also announced that he will retire as chief in April and he wanted to “thank the village board for supporting me as chief”
• Phil Genovese, from the village Department of Public Works, talked about working with the Fire Department on a water main break in the early hours of Sunday, February 9 and an issue with a leak in Tracy Memorial on Friday, February 8. He also said that grease in sewer system has become in issue again. He said his department will soon be conducting grease trap inspections at local restaurants.

The next regular village board meeting will be Monday, March 9 at 7 p.m. Village elections will be held Wednesday, March 18 this year.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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