The future of the Walnut Cove Police Department is still in limbo after the board voted to table consideration of a contract with the Stokes County Sheriff’s Office until it could be reviewed further.
The decision came before a packed room at the Walnut Cove Senior Center on Tuesday night. Three people spoke up in favor of the police department during the public comment session.
After speaking in favor of the department, Nick Golden stated, “Let’s pull together as a community instead of this divide and conquer strategy that has now plagued even town hall itself.”
Kathy Dix, owner of Just Plain Country downtown, said, “We need a town that has a police department.”
Ada Linster’s primary issue of concern was the water outage on Tuesday, but she also stated that the town needs a police department.
One man arrived too late to sign up to speak and began shouting later from the crowd after he was not allowed to speak. Mayor Lynn Lewis had to tell him to calm down and later offered a warning to the rest of the crowd. After directing the man to leave the room, officers stood blocking the doorway to the main room.
According to the three-year contract proposal, the town would pay the county $140,000 for fiscal year 2013-14 to provide law enforcement services in Walnut Cove. The amount would be paid in two $70,000 installments. In following years, the town’s annual payment would increase “by an amount equal to the previous year’s Consumer Price Index.”
The draft also proposes that the town will provide office space for use by the sheriff’s deputies in town and turn over two patrol cars, four handguns, four tasers and four protective vests to the sheriff’s office.
In return, the county would agree to have at least one officer stationed within the town limits at all times. Sheriff Mike Marshall previously stated that this would require hiring four new officers to each take a different shift. The sheriff’s office would also provide services to ensure safety at special events such as the annual Christmas parade or Halloween celebration.
Town Commissioner Kim Lewis mentioned the savings from the proposal and the sheriff’s office’s resources. She said the town would still have the same number of cars and officers and that she believed this proposal was “in the best interest of the people.”
Commissioner Charles Mitchell said he was opposed to it. “Once you disband it, you can’t put it back,” he stated, which drew applause from the crowd.
Commissioner Sharon Conaway had questions about the contract. She would like to see something in it about the sheriff’s office handling traffic accidents. The scheduling of the payments also concerned her. She also asked that there be some type of clause in the contract about what would happen to the equipment transferred to the sheriff’s office if the contract was later ended.
“If this is agreed to then we need to make sure we have all our bases covered … There should not be any gray areas,” said Conaway.
Commissioner Elwood Mabe said he thought the contract needed to be revised before the board considered it for a vote. The other commissioners agreed to this.
Kathy Dix said afterward that she wished the commissioners would have gone ahead and made a decision. “It just keeps the town in an uproar,” she said.
At last month’s meeting, the town board authorized the town manager to contact the county to investigate the possibility of disbanding the Walnut Cove Police Department and contracting with the Stokes County Sheriff’s Office to provide the town’s law enforcement services. The reason given was the need to reduce town expenditures. Commissioner Lewis said this was being initiated by the town and not the sheriff’s office.
At a budget workshop last month, Police Chief Chad Williams proposed a budget with a bottom line of about $289,000, lower than the current police department budget exceeding $350,000. He restated this at the meeting Tuesday.
Ellis presented his proposed budget to the board Monday night, and it included $289,000 for the police department. Ellis said the law enforcement costs will be lowered to $140,000 in his proposed budget if the board decides to disband the police department and contract with the sheriff’s office.