FULTON COUNTY — Ten deputies in the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department will soon cover what was once a 21-officer road patrol unit, an expected strain on the agency’s already limited resources.
One temporary deputy position will end on Friday and a full-timer is expected to leave by month’s end.
These losses fall on the eve of the summer season when thousands of visitors dot southern Adirondack communities such as Caroga and Northville. With reduced staff, deputies are expected to take less time covering boat patrol duties.
“We’re not going to have as many people out on the [Great Sacandaga Lake] because our main position is to cover the roads,” said Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino. “We’re going to do all we can to keep the tourists safe, guests safe.”
Expected ahead are two more retirements by year’s end. Giardino doesn’t expect any recruits from the police academy to fill needed roles until December. He’s working in the meantime with the county to bring part-timers on board to fill the void.
Giardino’s typically 21-officer road patrol began to diminish in 2022 as three sergeants and a deputy retired, and two other deputies went to other agencies.
While staff shortages have been prevalent across the country since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic due to job stress, retirement waves and overall labor strains, Giardino attributes part of the situation to Fulton County losing payroll parity with similarly sized departments back in the mid-2000s.
While details of the current contract renegotiations remain under wraps, Giardino and Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott Horton have indicated that they’re working on a solution to alleviate the staffing shortage.
“It’s pay, it’s benefits, it’s longevity, it’s retirement age and it’s an awful lot of things,” said Horton. “When it comes down to it, though, we do agree that we need to be competitive.”
Fulton County Deputy Sheriffs Police Benevolent Association President Jerrica Smith was not available for comment.
Recently, the county Board of Supervisors eliminated a policy which barred non-county residents from becoming deputies. Last November, they signed off on a pilot agreement with the union to let investigators work four-day, 10-hour work weeks in hopes of stifling an increase in overtime costs — a byproduct of staffing lows.
“I think they understand the situation is at crisis levels,” Giardino said. “And I think that they’re going to be working hard with the union trying to come up with something that will help.”
For the road patrol, the agency, as of May 11, has spent 43% of its overtime budget for the year — $120,000 out of $278,000. The frequency of overtime has raised some alarm bells.
“I’m just concerned for the safety of the officers and I’m concerned for the safety of the public,” Giardino said.
Meanwhile, the scope of patrols has also shrunk as a result of a policy enacted by the sheriff to protect deputies on the road. Giardino in November called for two-officer patrols between midnight and 6 a.m. following a series of incidents in which alleged perpetrators resisted arrest.
Fulton County is 533 square miles, the bulk of which sits in the southern Adirondack wilderness. When deputies drive to places like Stratford in the county’s northwest corner, there typically isn’t another patrol vehicle on standby for tens of miles.
As tourist season begins in the lake towns, Giardino expects speeding, reports of disorderly conduct and seasonal home break-ins discovered from over the winter.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.