GARLAND — With a price hike coming for Sampson County Sheriff’s services, town leaders are debating what to do next.
An increase of more than $25,000 was discussed during a Tuesday meeting for Garland Commissioners. The annual cost of law enforcement services exceeds $87,000 and county officials would like to raise it to over $112,000 because of a goal to decrease spending. Although many commissioners stressed the importance of a law presence in town, questions arose about deputies leaving Garland limits for emergencies.
“We pay county taxes for sheriff’s protection,” Commissioner S.J. Smith said at one point during the discussion. “Outside of town, they can call and get the same coverage we’re getting. We’re paying double taxes. We have to pay that $112,000, plus we’re paying a county tax.”
While addressing her colleagues, Mayor Winifred Murphy mentioned communications with the North Carolina League of Municipalities about ideas, which included beginning a separate police force or leasing equipment.
“All of us agree that we need a police protection,” Murphy said.
Commissioner Ralph Smith agreed, but like S.J., he stressed the tax issue and the increase request from the county.
“It’s not like we have our own private police department,” Ralph said. “We have no control over their work and I understand that. But if we have to call for policeman, we have to call 911 just like everybody else does. They’re only here for 12 hours of the day, so what are we doing for the other 12 hours?”
The original Garland contract began July 1, 2008 at an annual cost of $87,144. The town’s new contract for law enforcement services would go into effect July 1, 2016.
Board Attorney Micheal Porter reviewed the annual contract, which states coverage must be provided through emergency and non-emergency communication 24/7. Porter said it was a little fuzzy in regards of having two full-time deputies and the amount of time they’re supposed to be stationed in Garland.
“It also doesn’t say that they can’t go outside the corporate limits if there’s an emergency,” Porter said. “And I understand why they would want to do that if there was something going on, two miles outside of town.”
Porter added that he would like to see more specific language added to the contract regarding the services.
Currently, Sampson County is dealing with an ongoing budget reduction issue to implement a pay plan over four years at a estimate cost of $3.7 million. According to previous reports that includes $1.1 million and matching fringes for the current 2015-16 budget, as well as $1.19 million in real permanent savings over the next four years, requiring a reduction of $345,497 beginning with the 2016-2017 budget.
Following a unanimous vote, town commissioners and members of the board’s safety committee will address county commissioners during a future meeting for negotiating purposes.
“I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to negotiate it or not,” said Commissioner Judy Smith after speaking with county officials. “I think it’s going to be a matter if we want to keep it or not.”
She also spoke with local merchants about having a law enforcement presence in Garland. But many of them believed that the cost was steep, she noted.
“They couldn’t wrap their heads around how much it actually was,” Smith said.
She also stressed the importance of coming up with some type of decision about law enforcement, despite issues with the contract.
“I do want to keep a police presence here, however I don’t want to end up without a solution.”