Tom Leo Staff writer

The Post-Standard

An overwhelming decision by voters in Clay to abolish the town police department and merge with the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office may be a clear message more consolidation efforts statewide are on the way. The vote was 4,160 to 1,865 to move forward with the merger, which is scheduled to be complete by July 7.

Gov. David Paterson earlier this year cited Clay's proposal as an example of what needs to happen for more efficient, affordable, sensible government statewide.

"This is just a tremendous opportunity for us in this region to move forward," County Executive Joanie Mahoney said Monday night. "The county stands ready to partner with any of the towns that see opportunities like this."

Some towns in the county already have had conversations with Mahoney about similar mergers, she said, although she didn't name those towns.

"I think people were waiting to see what the climate was with the voters, and I think they made it really clear that the time has come for a more modern, efficient way of doing business," she said.

More than 200 absentee ballots are still to be counted in Clay, Town Clerk Vivian Mason said, but with such a lopsided margin -- 69 percent to 31 percent -- they wouldn't make a difference.

Clay Town Supervisor Jim Rowley called the vote a victory for taxpayers.

"This was a great deal from the beginning," Rowley said. "Hopefully, it'll be the start of something around the region."

Clay's five-year contract with the county calls for the sheriff's office to provide two patrol cars in Clay, 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- the same service currently provided by the Clay PD, Rowley said.

The Clay Police Department's 2008 operating budget is $2.4 million. Abolishing the department will make town tax bills drop 20 percent, Rowley said.

The town's payment to the county, estimated at $1.3 million the first year, covers the officers' salaries and the cost of keeping them on patrol. They town will save as much as $17 million over 10 years, Rowley said.

All 16 full-time Clay officers will be offered comparable jobs with the county, Sheriff Kevin Walsh said. Officers who transfer to the Sheriff's Office will become deputies and be based in the town of Clay for at least the first year, he said.

"I can guarantee residents they will have at least the same level of service the Clay Police Department has always provided for them," Walsh said.

The Clay PBA worked hard to convince voters they would lose some services. PBA spokesman Fred Corey Jr. said he was disappointed with the outcome. .

"The people have spoken," Corey said. "We fought the good fight."

All the voting was done at Clay Town Hall, where 10 voting machines were set up. Voter turnout was huge, with long lines of cars backed up on Route 31 most of the day. Traffic was backed up more than a half mile in each direction.

"I think this is the right thing to do. .. I didn't see any reason not to vote yes," said Carol Peltier, of 8032 Casilina Drive. "The sheriffs already were taking 40 percent of the police calls, so why not 100 percent?"

Michael Sciotti, of 609 David Drive, voted no. "It's not worth the tax savings," he said. "I want the extra cops."