An Interview : James Rumfelt

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To continue our series of interviews with candidates for Allegany County Legislature, we asked the long time Andover Chief of Police for some perspective. Chief Rumfelt is a US Army veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, the current President of the Wellsville Volunteer Ambulance Corp, and a Public Safety Officer at Alfred University. Rumfelt is running in District 4, representing Wellsville and Andover, where he lives and breathes community service.

WS: Thank you for your military service ! Which branch did you serve with and when ?  

Rumfelt: I served in the Army from January 1989 through January 1992 then in the Army Reserves from 1992 to 1996.

WS: What were the highlights of that service?  

 Rumfelt: I don’t really have one highlight but I feel I grew and learned a lot about other cultures as I served in South Korea as an 18-year-old alongside Korean Soldiers and then in Desert Shield/Desert Storm I had the honor to serve alongside a Saudi Soldier who I became friends with and we were able to learn from each other.  

WS: Twenty-seven years of policing in a small town and you have the reputation as a gentle giant.  How have you been able to stress the ‘Protect and Serve’ and avoid the ‘Arrest and Incarcerate’?

Rumfelt: As far as “serving” Andover for 27 years, it has been rewarding yet challenging.  In 1997 with the help of The Allegany County DA and Probation Department we were able to start a program that allowed me to take teenagers and pre-teens and have them do community service instead of putting them in the “system” on minor first offenses.  I would volunteer a Saturday every month and supervise the kids and they would clean up Andover or do small projects for the elderly.  Unfortunately, the State and insurance issues put an end to the program and now the courts have to sentence them to community service.  I’ve always tried to be fair and honest with anyone I’ve had to deal with and try to understand the situation.  I think my background in psychology and counseling has helped in this aspect.

WS: You noted that you also work in the public safety office at Alfred University.  How has the pandemic changed that role?

Rumfelt: Working at Alfred University during the Pandemic has been interesting to say the least.  Our office had to take on several rolls this year that included transporting students that were put in isolation or quarantine and at the start of the pandemic we were also taking them meals and essentials.  We also were given the task of checking in visitors to our campus as everyone that comes on campus now has to go through our office for a screening before they are allowed to visit.  Through it all the students were very accepting and handled it well so it made our job easier.  

WS: As the current President of the Wellsville Volunteer Ambulance Corp you are clearly invested in both Andover and Wellsville.  Are these two municipalities taking advantage of every possible efficiency and synergy in the realm of shared services?  Where can we do a better job and what role would you play as a legislator representing District 4?


Rumfelt:
As President of the Wellsville Ambulance and Assistant Chief of the Andover Ambulance I’ve had the privilege to be part of two organizations that also work with Amity Rescue.  They put the shared service concept to use by having two ALS response vehicles to cover 6 Towns and 3 Villages.    As far as the Towns and Villages sharing services I feel they do a good job and you will notice some of the shared services in the “road work season” when you see multiple Town Highway trucks and equipment helping with the roadwork.  On the Police Side we have a Municipal Mutual Aid agreement between most of the Police Departments in the County that was first started by Chief O’Grady when he was with the Alfred Police Department and probably should be updated.

Is there room for improvement in the Shared Services? Yes there is always ways to improve and if elected to represent District IV, I would reach out to every department head in the District and the Allegany County Department Heads and get their input on what their needs are and what they have to offer each other.  I feel the DPW heads are doing a good job utilizing the shared services.

WS: The goals you related to me are echoed by almost every candidate in this election.  What are your unique plans to tackle taxes, the loss of manufacturing, and the loss of population?  

Rumfelt: Everyone that lives in Allegany County is aware of our high taxes and I would love give you the politician answer saying I knew how to lower them, but I honestly do not have a smoking gun answer for you.  When I first decided to run for legislature, I started reading over the county budget and I am probably half way through it.  The legislature has lowered the county taxes the last few years and it would be great if we can continue the trend. As for the loss of manufacturing in the county we need to think outside the box and sell ourselves.  When I was taking business classes in college, I did a study on why different companies were looking at Allegany County and the number one answer was our workforce. In the 1993 our county had a reputation of having hard workers that were some of the most dedicated in the country.

If we are going attract manufacturing jobs we need to build that reputation up and sell it.  It is going to be an uphill battle to bring jobs back due to the New York State taxes and regulations but it is not impossible and the County leaders have already started.  The loss of population is another issue that is really close to my heart.  I was guilty of wanting to leave the county when I graduated high school and I was gone for just over 4 years but then I couldn’t wait to get back after I left. The main reason was the community spirit and the natural beauty.  This community spirit was never more visible to me then when I was fighting Cancer in 2019. The communities of Andover, Wellsville, Scio and Alfred really came through.  My friends from other areas could not believe all the support I received. Allegany County has a lot to offer on the natural beauty side also and we need to sell it.  Tourism is putting our county on the map and we need to use it to our advantage. If we bring the jobs back, we will keep the people here so that is going to be one of my most important goals if elected.

WS: As you have done some canvasing of the district, residents have been very open with you.  Outside of the common themes discussed in the last question, what are you hearing from them?

Rumfelt: The biggest concern that I have heard when I was out talking to the residents of Wellsville was the extra sales tax the county has.  They feel it deters shoppers from coming to Wellsville and spending money on large purchases.  In Andover the concern seemed to be on the struggles of small business and getting a grocery store back in town.  The two other big issues that were brought up were Bail Reform and Gun control.  

WS: Allegany County has a ‘fund balance’ or ‘surplus’ or as your potential colleagues refer, the “piggy bank”.  That balance sits at about 30 million dollars currently.  Many county officials believe this surplus is necessary to maintain as a ‘rainy day fund’.  Historically the county has used some of this surplus to balance the budget.  How do you feel about this?  

Rumfelt: My feeling on having a fund balance is that I believe the county should have a fund balance for emergencies. That amount should be enough to get us through at least three months of operating expenses. When I was on the Board of Directors in the Wellsville Ambulance Corps. I preached this and I think it is wise for any public entity to have.  I may feel different when I learn more on the operations of the County Government but as of right now, I feel the fund is a necessity.

My experience on the Village level has taught me that there needs to be emergency funds.  In the mid 90’s the Village of Andover really struggled and there were months that we didn’t know if they were going to make payroll.  The board at the time decided we didn’t need an emergency fund and they used it to lower the taxes and then we had several different incidents that drained the finances.  With that being said I only think the County Surplus should be used to lower taxes if there is enough left in the fund to keep the county running for three months.

WS: As a member of law enforcement, and a veteran, how do you feel about “co-opting” the American Flag by various groups?  

Rumfelt: I am torn on the co-opting of the Flag.  As a veteran I like to hold the flag to a high standard to represent a freedom that I grew to appreciate more when I traveled to other countries that do not enjoy the freedoms we have.  In saying that I realize that one of our freedoms is that we can express ourselves and some groups choose to co-opt the flag in order to do this.  I know first responders have co-opted the flag and some say it is a violation of Title 4 of the U.S. Code, but this was struck down by the Supreme Court.  My opinion as long as it is used to show support or pride in an organization in a respectful manner and not to push hate or disrespect then I am ok with it.

WS: The Blue Lives Matter contingent in particular is very popular in Allegany county.  Why has that “co-opted” version of the American flag replaced the other traditional images of law enforcement support, particularly on vehicles?  

Rumfelt: There is a tremendous support for Law Enforcement in Allegany County and I heard that echoed when I was walking around District IV the last two weeks.  I think the co-opted Thin Blue Line Flag has become the main symbol of support in Allegany County because of ‘Main Stream’ media using it as a talking point for the past few years.  The media has portrayed this as both good and bad depending on the news you watch.  This has been talked about so much that people know what it means and in our area they choose to use it as a positive way to show their support.  The Thin Blue Line and the thin Blue Line Flag have been around since at least the 1950’s but most people were not even aware it existed until recently.

WS: What role to do you see the Allegany County Sheriff playing in the future?  Has bail reform permanently changed the game for NY institutions that operate jails/prisons?

Rumfelt: I have not had a chance to meet with Sheriff Whitney yet on his goals and the direction of the Sheriff’s Department but I plan on reaching out to him after the primary if I should win.  I am not sure how bail reform will affect our jail as from what I have been told most of the inmates our federal prisoners that we contract to house.  I could be mistaken on that statement but that is my understanding.  My concern on the housing of federal prisoners is that there are four Congresswomen that want to end the practice of the federal government housing out inmates and I think that would affect our jail more than the bail reform of they get it passed.

WS: With the end of the pandemic seemingly within reach, will this be the next Roaring Twenties?  

Rumfelt: With the end of the Pandemic nearing, I do see people getting out and enjoying things that we took for granted before.  I do not think we will see a “Roaring Twenties” type atmosphere in our area but I think we will see it in the cities.

WS: What will happen to the former Market Basket in Andover ?

Rumfelt: I would hope that someone would purchase the former grocery store and revive it.  Being a small town, I hear all kinds of rumors but we will have to wait and see.  Hopefully it doesn’t sit empty for too much longer.

WS: Between working and serving in Wellsville, Andover, and Alfred— Who has the best food?

Rumfelt: As for the best food in our area I would have to say my father-in-law.  He makes the best Macaroni and Cheese.

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