By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- Town Supervisor Joseph Gray reported at the Town Council’s Wednesday meeting that he is dissatisfied with the village’s offer to send police officers for each take-off and landing at Massena International Airport, as required by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The current deal expires at the end of the month.
He said Mayor James Hidy wants the town to sign a $50,000 contract, which amounts to time-and-a-half pay for the officers. Gray said he is awaiting a follow-up meeting.
“I don’t agree that a routine job those guys are doing is an overtime rate,” Gray said.
Councilman Albert Nicola was quick to note the officers would be on-duty during a normal shift.
Gray has been going toe-to-toe with the TSA regarding law enforcement presence at the airport. Last month, he said they reneged on a post-9/11 agreement to compensate Massena for the service. About four years ago they cut the rate in half and last year stopped paying altogether.
Part of his frustration is borne of the fact that another airport in the North Country doesn’t have police on-scene for each takeoff. He would not say which, but did say it’s not in St. Lawrence County. Gray noted that Massena’s airport is under the Syracuse TSA office, whereas the other airport is under Albany-based TSA’s watch. He said the other location gets the approval because they have a response time law enforcement presence, meaning police can be there in minutes if a TSA official at the airport calls them.
“We have numerous law enforcement agencies,” Gray said in August, pointing to state troopers, Border Patrol, U.S. Customs, and Department of Homeland Security in addition to local police. “If a suspicious car is pulled over on Highway 37 in Massena and an officer calls for assistance, there are several vehicles there within five minutes. Why is this not good enough for them?”
He says that TSA officials in Syracuse will not give him a straight answer as to why Massena doesn’t fall under the response time law enforcement presence rule.