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Lewis officials to consider reimbursing Lowville PD for transports

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County likely will reimburse the village Police Department for mental health transports to Watertown, although details still must be worked out.

“We want to get some mutual agreement,” Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, said during a legislative Mental Hygiene Committee meeting Tuesday morning attended by a majority of lawmakers.

Mr. Stanford, the committee chairman, said county officials were taken aback when they recently received a nearly $1,000 bill from the village intended to cover the transport of area residents to Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, for mental health evaluations over the past four months.

“It caught us off-guard because we’d never seen it before,” he said.

Lowville Police Chief Eric F. Fredenburg, who was invited to the meeting to discuss the bill, said his department handles “a couple dozen” transports per year, and they sometimes require him to pay officers overtime or call in additional help to maintain adequate coverage.

“It does become a burden,” he said.

Chief Fredenburg said he has a verbal agreement with the sheriff that the county department will handle transport of non-village residents, when possible, and state police also conduct some when called.

However, when deputies are tied up elsewhere, village police wind up handling the transports, regardless of where the individuals live, he said.

While the village has covered such expenses in the past, Chief Fredenburg said he had discussed the matter with the village’s attorney and was under the impression that state law would provide for county reimbursement of that expense, hence submission of the bill.

Sarah J. Bullock, the county’s acting director of community services, said there apparently is no such requirement, but “that doesn’t mean we can’t work out some agreement.”

Unlike most counties, Lewis County does not have an approved psychiatric center, requiring out-of-county transports, Mrs. Bullock said.

And legislators appeared sympathetic to Chief Fredenburg’s situation, given that a majority of mental health transports originate from sites within the village such as the mental health clinic and Lewis County General Hospital.

“They’re being punished for where we are,” said Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville.

“They’re carrying that heavy load here,” added Legislator William J. Burke, R-West Lowville.

Mr. Stanford said that he would like to help cover the village’s expense but also would like to have a better handle on the expected cost for budgeting purposes.

Some lawmakers floated the idea of a flat rate of $115 per trip, essentially the amount that Chief Fredenburg figured into his bill.

Committee members will further discuss the matter, with the intent of coming up with a solution next month, Mr. Stanford said.

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