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Funding for Massena police to provide security at Massena airport takes big hit


MASSENA — The town and village are looking for new ways to provide federally mandated security at Massena International Airport after a cut in federal grant money.

The Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, requires that a law enforcement officer be present while commercial passengers are screened at airports. Smaller airports have been awarded grant money to help pay for the post-Sept. 11 mandate, but this year TSA changed the way it calculates the grants, reducing both the estimated number of hours an officer will need to work and the amount each officer will be paid.

The town has a contract with the Massena Village Police Department to have an officer at the airport for departures.

According to town bookkeeper Nancy Fregoe, the last check the town received from the TSA represents a 64 percent reduction in reimbursement payments since August 2010. In November, the town received a TSA check for the months of February through July, reimbursing the town $1,996.52 for the $5,556.32 in officers’ wages.

Those costs fall largely on the village, as the town only reimburses the village with what it received from the TSA, according to Ms. Fregoe.

She said the town had received $56,652 for the security work in 2010, but those numbers dropped to $18,988 for payment for the period running from October 2010 to September 2011.

Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said the town and village have been in discussions about how to continue providing security with significantly less TSA funding. He said they are considering several options, but declined to specify what those are.

“We’ll certainly look at what other airports do, and we’ll consider discussions with the TSA,” he said.

Mr. Gray also criticized the TSA for mandating the security and then pulling back on its reimbursements.

“The TSA needs to make a decision. They need to either pay for law enforcement service (at the airport screenings) or to do away with the requirement that we have this service,” Mr. Gray said. “It appears to be a situation of a government agency trying to pass a cost down to local government.”

A law enforcement presence might not be necessary at the airports, Mr. Gray said. “I assume the TSA staff is trained, and if they need police they could call and say they need a presence,” he said.

Mr. Gray said he knows of at least one north country airport that does not keep an officer present during passenger screening, but would not say which one.

“I don’t understand why we have these requirements when other airports don’t,” he said.

Mayor James F. Hidy said the village and town are looking at their options, including the possibility of using an outside law enforcement agency, but that for the time being they’ll have to stomach the costs.

“We’re looking at our options but for the time-being we’ll keep using the Massena Village Police,” he said.

The Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority is also looking for solutions to provide security at the city’s airport as it prepares to lose more than half of the federal funding for police presence.

After the U.S. Transportation Security Administration cut funding to provide a law enforcement officer at the Ogdensburg International Airport from $56,733 this year to $26,000 next year, the OBPA will be left to make up the funding gap — until the airport’s security plan is rewritten.

“The latest grant is significantly less than before, and costs have continued to increase,” said Wade A. Davis, authority executive director. “As a result, there’s still a shortfall.”

Currently, the grant pays for most of the $85,000 cost to post an Ogdensburg City Police officer at the airport during boardings. The additional costs are split between the OBPA and the city.

With grant funding evaporating and tight budgets all around, the agreement could not be maintained, leaving the authority to seek alternative methods for providing airport security.

In October, members of the authority’s board of directors worried that they might no longer be able to afford to keep an officer at the airport, putting commercial air service to Ogdensburg at risk.This year, the TSA changed the way it calculates the grants, reducing both the estimated number of hours an officer will have to work and the amount each officer will be paid.

Mr. Davis said Ogdensburg’s airport security plan would be rewritten to reflect a model used at Saranac Lake, which would eliminate the need for a police officer during baggage screening and boarding, but keep the airport open under rules acceptable to the TSA.

Cape Air of Barnstable, Mass., serves the Massena and Ogdensburg airports with three incoming and departing flights each day.

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