Police hiatus for Garland sound decision

Three years ago, Garland opted against a Sampson County Sheriff’s Office contract that would up the cost of law enforcement coverage in the town by about 30 percent in favor of re-establishing a police department. It’s been a whirlwind since, and one we’d like to see stabilize for the fiscal health of the town and mental health of its leaders.

Last week marked a new fiscal year, one in which Garland will not have a police force it spent all of 2016-17 putting together after the contract opt-out — bringing in a consultant, buying a patrol car and equipment and hiring a chief — and the next two years trying to iron out the kinks and make work.

It did not work.

What followed was a fair share of growing pains and a rollercoaster of divisiveness between town board members amid uncertainty of police coverage quantity and quality, and questions of accountability and professionalism — and whether the headache was even worth it. It is a massive undertaking to establish a police force, especially in a small town that has a handful of working commissioners to oversee it.

It was a move that was made with cost and citizens’ safety in mind, and we credit Garland town officials for that. Ultimately it was that same cost consideration that led to the department’s suspension, and rightfully so.

We agree wholeheartedly with the decision to go away from the department for the next year, while town officials analyze how to make any police department cost-effective prior to reactivation. The town isn’t tossing out the car or equipment, but rather taking a breather while sheriff’s deputies provide coverage as needed, under no contract.

Murphy said the town was “covered effectively and efficiently” from July 2016 through June 2017 by the Sheriff’s Office only. That is again what will be in place for the foreseeable future. Sheriff’s deputies will respond to all 911 calls and will randomly patrol Garland to include days, nights and weekends.

What Garland was confronted with back in 2016 was a contract for two full-time deputies totaling $112,799, to go in effect July 1, 2016, up from $87,144 — an increase of $25,655. That $87,144 cost had been unchanged for eight years before the hike, which was proposed by the county primarily to offset a $3.7 million employee pay study and the additional salary costs that came with it.

Roseboro faced a rise too, but minuscule by comparison. The cost of two full-time deputies, a master deputy and one sergeant was upped to $240,533, again effective July 1, 2016, after tallying $237,420 for each of the seven years before that.

The interlocal agreements for Garland and Roseboro, which began on July 1, 2008 and Jan. 1, 2009, respectively, were entered into after the police departments were dissolved within months of each other amid a down economy that did not permit the towns to fiscally sustain them.

“Garland was once a bustling town in our county, providing much economic activity,” Murphy stated in her plea back in 2016 for a reduced hike. She said she felt that having a constant police presence would serve to protect citizens and promote investment in a safe town, allowing Garland to flourish once again.

The extra $25,000 was deemed a bridge too far, so Garland went out on its own.

A lot has been made in recent months about economic development, and how crucial growth is to sustain Sampson County. Funds have been doled out left and right for various customer service and economic development pursuits, while county leaders preach on the unified effort everyone must buy into for this success to be realized.

So it’s interesting to revisit the quotes from Garland leaders three years ago and think about the compromise the county just couldn’t make for one of its towns.

Everyone must be treated fairly, commissioners replied at the time, saying that the pain had to essentially be equally distributed, even though it simply wasn’t equal for a town like Garland.

Cut to this year. Murphy said spending $90,000 for the department in 2019-20 would be “fiscal irresponsibility by our board and grave mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.”

Again, we echo that, and would urge county officials to revisit the contract cost. Garland has shown it is willing to pay its fair share to protect its citizens. That would mean funds for the county, and Garland receiving additional coverage it doesn’t have to agonize over.