The King City Council voted Monday night to allow the mayor and city manager to begin talks with county officials about the possibility of the county providing the city’s law enforcement services instead of the King Police Department.
The motion by Councilman Brian Carico came during a meeting when Mayor Jack Warren was not present because he was “under the weather,” so council member Dillard Burnette served as mayor pro tem for the night. Carico and Charles Allen voted for the motion and Wesley Carter against it. Burnette did not verbally vote, but according to state statute a councilman stepping in to facilitate a meeting does not lose his vote. His silence counted as an affirmative vote under state regulation. It is unclear whether Burnette understood this at the time of the meeting. The votes were recorded as 3-1.
Carico brought up the suggestion during the “items of general concern” portion at the end of the meeting. He said that coming into budget time it was important to look at every department as a whole. He said one suggestion by citizens of the city has been to talk with the county about providing the city’s law enforcement protection. His motion was to send Warren to speak with the chairman of the Stokes County Board of Commissioners and City Manager John Cater to speak with the county manager to see if the county would be willing to submit a proposal on the matter.
The suggestion produced some quiet murmuring in the room, with one woman in the crowd interjecting that Carico’s father works for the county sheriff’s office.
Prior to the vote, Carter spoke up and said, “I’m 100 percent against this proposal.” He said regardless of whether the act would save the city money, and he was not sure if it would, he did not think it would be beneficial for the city’s residents “to be policed by an outside organization.” And he said it would add an unreasonable amount of workload on the county and could put the safety of the citizens at risk. He was outvoted.
Allen explained after the meeting why he voted in favor of the city starting discussion with the county about this: “I’m interested in doing what’s best for the community and taxpayers in King.” He said if the city can find a way to get it at a cheaper price, then he is willing to look at it.
“We don’t want to sacrifice any safety, of course,” he added.
Carico said after the meeting that the motion was just to start a dialogue about the possibility.
King Police Chief Paula May, who was present at the meeting to give a presentation about Cops for Tots, said afterward that while she respects efforts to save taxpayer money, “I am concerned that such an endeavor would be very detrimental to the safety and security of residents and citizens.”
The chief said there are a number of reasons why turning the city policing over to the sheriff’s office wouldn’t work. One reason involves the investigation of traffic accidents. The shift could negatively impact response time. There were 258 traffic accidents last year in the city and 19 so far this year.
During his comments, Councilman Carter started to mention a letter by 1st Sgt. Kevin Barker of the N.C. Highway Patrol regarding the issue, but Burnette advised him that the letter had been withdrawn by the state that afternoon. May said the law enforcement shift would also be a concern for the highway patrol.
Also, a portion of King is located in Forsyth County, so May said the city would have to negotiate payment for services with two counties.
May said her number one concern is this: “I strongly believe this is an issue to be decided by the citizens.”
May said no official had approached her with the suggestion or asked for her opinion or for data regarding the police department. The meeting Monday was the first official word she had heard of it. She had heard rumors from concerned citizens that such an idea was being discussed.
Carico said after the meeting that citizens “by large droves” had brought it to his attention that the city should entertain the idea. He said he had been approached by people about this while he was out and about in the community.
“We’re supposed to look to see any form or fashion we can save money,” he remarked.
Carico mentioned that small towns across the state are looking into ways to save money, and some are looking at contracting out law enforcement. He said the motion was just to start a dialogue to see if the county is interested in submitted a bid.
“Everything’s up in the air,” he said.
Carico said the council would consider the response from citizens. He said, “Our job is to do what the citizens want.”
Carico said he does not think shifting policing responsibilities would negatively affect the safety of citizens.
“I have no concern that that will happen … Regardless of who is providing the protection … We will never at any point in time put the citizens at risk.”
Earlier in the meeting, Carico made a motion for the city manager to check to see if it would be possible for the city to cancel an order for two police cars. These orders were placed around three months ago but have not been received yet by the police department. Carico stated during the meeting that the motion was being made “for economic reasons.” The approval of the city’s reimbursement for any purchase costs prior to financing of the equipment was tabled until the next meeting.
The two replacement police cars were included in the 2011-12 budget. The total for the two cars and costs of installing equipment in them would be $59,882. Cater said he was not sure if the city could cancel the order, since it is like a contract has been established. He will check with the vendor.
Carter voted against that motion.