GARLAND — A $25,000 roadblock has given way to an opportunity to re-establish what this town gave up eight years ago.
In two different meetings this month, town officials pleaded to the Sampson Board of Commissioners to reconsider a $25,000 hike for its law enforcement coverage, citing Garland’s poverty level and limited revenues compared to other municipalities that boast parks, schools and businesses. On Monday, at the second of those meetings, county commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of approving the interlocal agreements with Garland and Roseboro as proposed.
“We pleaded with the county commissioners, but it was to no avail,” Mayor Winifred Murphy said.
Facing a new proposed cost of $112,799 for its two full-time Sampson County Sheriff’s deputies, up from the current cost of $87,144 — an increase of $25,655, or nearly 30 percent — Garland commissioners at a Thursday night special meeting answered with an emphatic “no thanks.”
Not only did it rescind a prior town board action to move forward with the sheriff’s contract, but it took another action, both unanimous, to not enter into the new proposed contract starting July 1, which will effectively end the eight-year partnership that began on July 1, 2008.
“I make a motion we do not enter into a contract with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Department, period,” Commissioner Ralph Smith said, quickly seconded by Carolyn Melvin and approved.
The board then voted, again unanimously, to start planning on July 1 to re-establish a town police force. Murphy offered a timeline of July 1, 2017 to actually have the department in effect, but town board members were optimistic it could happen sooner than that.
Commissioner S.J. Smith noted other towns like Autryville, Turkey and Harrells that rely on 911 service for law enforcement response. He said it won’t be much of a change. Garland was being provided with 12-hour protection during the day as part of the contract, not 24 hours. And, even then, residents would often call 911.
“Even if they were four blocks away, we still would have to go through the dispatch,” said S.J. Smith, who noted that businesses wanted more dedication to the town. “They want to get the police department back.”
Town finance officer Pam Cashwell said $80,000 out of Garland’s budget has been reserved for the police department fund, with another $14,000 in contingency, giving the town $94,000 toward implementing the force.
Commissioners said it could be as easy as getting a decent deal on an older patrol vehicle and hiring one full-time officer.
“The town operated a one-man police department for years,” said Ralph Smith, who said he would use his contact with N.C. Highway Patrol to gauge vehicle prices. “It doesn’t have to be a great car. This would give us a start and then we can hire somebody. We won’t have to rely on anybody else.”
Murphy said it was “a lot of moving parts,” with law enforcement standards to be followed, and equipment and software to be purchased, but felt it could be done and would go with the wishes of the board.
“I think we need to go back to what we had,” noted S.J. Smith, who reiterated the feelings of townspeople and business owners. “They said we would be a fool to go with the Sheriff’s Office but they wanted a police presence.”
The cost of the contracts had not changed since they were signed early eight years ago, a move made when the Garland and Roseboro police departments were dissolved within months of each other amid a down economy that made them fiscally unsustainable. The increase scheduled for this year was due to the new county employee pay plan, which caused officials to examine salaries across the board.
The current contract expires June 30.
Garland’s budget ordinance totals $808,000, including $493,000 in the General Fund, $279,000 in Water/Sewer and $36,000 in the Powell Bill Fund. All fund totals are down from 2015-16, whose budget ordinance totaled $892,000.
The tax rate is proposed to remain at 72 cents per $100 valuation of taxable property. The rates are based on an estimated valuation of close to $28 million and a 95 percent rate of collection.
There are $1 flat rate increases proposed for residential water and sewer customers, and $2 increases for commercial customers. The board also approved inclusion of Envirolink’s contract for professional service totaling $71,000, a 5 percent increase over the current year. The motor vehicle sticker fee will also increase from $5 to $10 for 2016-17
There is a 3 percent cost of living adjustment for town employees and a week’s pay Christmas bonus.
Receiving discussion at the special meeting of the Garland board was a proposed increase of Garland Fire Department’s contract from $5,000 in this current year to $11,000 in addition to utilities, which accounts for another roughly $2,400 for 2016-17. The fire department has perennially received $5,000 from the town plus free utilities before the proposed hike. The department actually requested $38,000 for 2016-17.
However, commissioners said fire officials did not give documentation to justify the requested increase.
“This money needs to be justified,” Commissioner Judy Smith said. “We can’t just give them away because they say that’s what they want.”
The board did agree to the $11,000 but said it should be found in the existing budget. Ralph Smith had floated the possibility of taking the Garland Fire Department off the town’s books — it accounts for roughly 2 cents of the town’s tax rate — and instead initiating a 5 cent fire tax, which would essentially amount to a 3 cent increase on taxes for town residents. That way the county could deal with the fire department and the town could wash its hands of those issues.
Commissioner Haywood Johnson agreed.
“We won’t have to hear that noise we’ve been hearing,” said Johnson.
Murphy and others said they did not want to raise taxes and a motion by Smith was ultimately defeated 3-2.
“We don’t want to pass on the needs of the fire department to our taxpayers like the county passed on the needs to fund their pay study,” the mayor said.
A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. June 14 prior to the regular meeting. Tentative adoption of the budget will take place at 6 p.m. June 23. Outside of media, no one from the public was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.