Paying more for law enforcement protection could bury the Town of Garland, which has a high poverty level and limited revenues compared to other towns that have parks, schools and a plethora of businesses to keep afloat.
Garland leaders made that impassioned plea, imploring the Sampson Board of Commissioners not to increase the cost of the town’s contract with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office as proposed. Garland Mayor Winifred Murphy cited “major setbacks” in the town’s not-to-distant past from which it is still recovering.
“Garland was once a bustling town in our county, providing much economic activity,” she stated. “It has decreased in population and lost much of that economic growth. We are trying to rectify that. Like you, the safety of our town, our citizens and our businesses is a very high priority as we review our budget.”
County manager Ed Causey said he was “sympathetic” to the needs of the towns, but budget constraints and cost of services drove the proposal. The county has been in an ongoing budgetary process in order to make the needed room to implement an employee pay plan over four years at an estimated cost of $3.7 million.
For Roseboro, the new proposed cost for its two full-time deputies, a master deputy and one sergeant is $240,533, up from the current $237,420 — an increase of $3,113. In Garland, the new proposed cost for its two full-time deputies is $112,799, up from the current cost of $87,144 — an increase of $25,655.
The towns’ new interlocal agreements for law enforcement services would go into effect July 1, 2016.
Murphy talked about a low tax base that contributes to Garland’s tax rate of 72 cents per $100 valuation, the highest of any town in Sampson, which she said residents pay along with the county’s 83 cents per $100 valuation. The town’s poverty rate also hovers over 40 percent, compared to Sampson’s 29 percent.
“Unlike Roseboro, which also has this interlocal agreement, we have no schools, no park, we have no recreation — we are trying to get a softball league going — (but with this) we will have very little to put toward other things,” the mayor said.
That is a roughly 30 percent increase for the town. The $112,000 cost would make up 24 percent of the town’s General Fund alone.
“We are fully aware of the increased cost of services, especially with the cost of personnel,” said Murphy. “We’re here not to question the validity of these costs, but to ask for your assistance in providing these services at a reduced rate. Without a reduction, our citizens will pay 60 cents of the $100 valuation of taxes collected for 12 hours of services, which is not exclusive to the municipal limits.”
The 12-hour protection is subject to deputies responding to emergency calls in neighboring areas. A “zone car” covers the other 12-hour period.
The cost of the contracts has not changed since they were signed over seven years ago, a move made when the towns’ police departments were dissolved within months of each other amid a down economy that did not allow towns to fiscally sustain them.
Murphy said the town made the move to enter into the interlocal agreement because it wanted to protect its citizens and promote investment in a safe town.
“As we’ve talked to citizens and business owners, they feel that police protection, even for 12 hours, is very, very important,” Murphy remarked, noting that re-implementing a police department was also not in the financial cards. “We want to provide a safe town and we realize that starting and maintaining our own small force is economically not feasible or the safest choice when we can benefit from our well-trained Sheriff’s Department.”
Garland commissioner Judy Smith implored county commissioners to forgo any rise in the cost of the sheriff’s contract on behalf of the town and its citizens. Garland commissioners S.J. Smith and Ralph Smith were also in attendance.
“We agree we need a police presence in our town, but at the same time I’m sitting down with this budget like you’re sitting down with a budget, and everybody is requiring an increase to make their budgets work,” said Smith. “We need a presence, but we almost feel that the county tax we are paying ought to reduce some of this price.”
She echoed Murphy’s concerns of an already “poverty-stricken” town devoid of many amenities to generate revenue. The lack of recreation and schools also breeds crime, and progress toward adding those parks and rec services is halted if money is spent elsewhere, town officials said.
“Garland already is poverty stricken, high in crime and we don’t have a school or anything for (children) to do,” Smith noted. “We really are having everybody pull into our budget to make their budgets work. If we don’t come together somehow and try to work out our problems as a county, we are going to have more crime and more problems. We just need help.”
Roseboro Mayor Alice Butler also spoke during the meeting, but said town officials did not have much of an issue with its proposed $3,100 increase. She said she was aware it was the first increase in nearly eight years.
“I am certainly very empathetic to Garland,” she said. “I also would like the contract to be less. I think we all would. The Sheriff’s Office has served us well since 2008 and this is our first increase.”
Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said he also felt for Garland, which the Sheriff’s Office has covered since July 2008. He said the partnership has benefited not only the towns, but the county as well.
“It is unfortunate that with the pay study we had to go back and revisit both the contracts,” said Thornton. “There had never been any discussion to do that until the implementation of the pay study. Certainly, with the smaller towns it has to be a struggle, especially Garland. It’s even been a struggle for the county the last several years.”
Commissioners Albert Kirby and Harry Parker talked about the impact of that rising cost for the towns. Kirby pointed at the approximate $3,000 hike for Roseboro compared to the $25,000 hike for Garland.
“That’s a pretty large increase for Garland, especially when it is not in the position to recoup costs,” the commissioner stated. “I feel like that big of an increase on a town like Garland is too much at one time.”
Parker cited the poverty level concerns. “If you don’t have it, you can’t pay it,” he said.
Kirby talked about the board’s decision to enter into a costly pay plan and noted the trickle-down nature of what the county was proposing for its own municipalities.
“I feel like we are like the folks in Raleigh or D.C., saying we are going to pass the buck. We decided to do this pay increase, so instead of us raising taxes to pay for it we are going to put the burden on these municipalities to pay for it,” Kirby stated. “It might not be exactly that way, but people are going to look at it like that. We made the decision to do the pay study. They didn’t.”
Commissioner Sue Lee said the contracts did pre-date the pay study, and the move was made merely to update the agreements for the first time in eight years.
Parker made a motion to revisit the topic at a special meeting on Monday, May 23. The board unanimously concurred. Murphy thanked the board for their consideration.
In comments at the end of the meeting, Smith again implored the board for assistance. She requested an $8,000 contribution to help get Garland’s softball league off the ground. Smith said she did not want to see the recent efforts of the town, as well as the donation of land, be in vain.
“We are our neighbor’s keeper,” she said. “We’re not asking for a whole lot and we are willing to do fundraisers and help ourselves. I just don’t see us being able to keep things going with everything that is coming at us.”
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