Hertford Town Council voted 3-2 to approve a law enforcement services contract negotiated by Town and County officials that leads to dissolving the town’s police department.
The basic terms were discussed in the Tuesday meeting (June 1) and no changes were made to the contract during the Thursday meeting.
Consolidation will officially take place July 1 when Town Hall disbands the police department. Town Hall will pay the county $350,000 to provide public safety for Hertford’s 2,100 citizens.
Monday, Perquimans County Commission signed off on the contract with the town.
The sheriff’s office proposed budget includes two new deputies for county service, and with the consolidation of the Hertford Police Department, includes four deputy positions, an investigator and an administrative assistant.
Mayor Earnell Brown, Mayor Pro Tem Hodges and Councilman Jerry Mimlitsch voted in favor of consolidating the police department while councilmen Frank Norman and Quentin Jackson opposed the measure.
As HPD’s sole remaining law enforcement officer, council appointed Officer Dean Polumbo as interim police chief. Perquimans deputies patrol the town when needed under the auspices of a long-existing mutual aid agreement between the town and county.
Council recently released a study suggesting the cost of contracting law enforcement services through the Perquimans County Sheriff’s Office could save the Town hundreds of thousands of dollars per year versus continuing to operate a separate police department.
Mayor Brown said it was a difficult decision to dissolve HPD, but consolidation would provide equal or better law enforcement service.
Hodges said he has the utmost respect for law enforcement, but the town is unable to afford the police department.
Council’s study reports that the police department’s effective budget request (request + dispatch costs) exceeded $1 million or 50% of the town’s general fund revenue for the 3rd straight year, the study said. FY20-21 HPD budget of more than $768,000 consumed nearly 39% of projected General Fund revenue despite being funded at two officers less than originally proposed by the Hertford Police Chief at the beginning of the budget planning cycle.
As to dissolving the police department and working with the county, Jackson said, “In America, you get what you pay for – tell me what contract that the county has honored (with the town)? Not one!” Critical of Brown and Hodges, Jackson said taxpayers funds could be better spent to preserve public safety than on other initiatives council has been pursuing.
Norman said it is wrong to disband the police department and noted that the councilors who support the measure live close to the sheriff’s office in contrast to citizens who live elsewhere in town.
Per usual, the meeting degenerated into accusations and insults hurled at Brown and Hodges by Jackson and Norman, but Brown was able to restore order and keep the meeting flowing.
During the citizens’ concerns portion of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting (June 1), several residents spoke for or against the measure to dissolve the police department.
“We have an opportunity to move our policing to the county and from what has been indicated, we can save money while maintaining reliable protection for the citizens of Hertford,” Martha Borders said. “The county sheriff is elected every four years and answers to all the voters including Hertford residents. He can’t be fired because Hertford town council or the county commissioners aren’t happy with how he does his job. The sheriff answers to the people while the Hertford Police Chief answers to Town Council.”
Borders said the sheriff can conduct his own investigations without Town Council looking over his shoulders.
“I doubt if the Sheriff would take kindly to any council member trying to tell him his job,” she said. “Though there are several on council that desire that control and also claim they know more about the law. There is much less possibility for corruption if our police are free to do an honest, well trained, dedicated job to uphold the law.”
Borders said change is necessary to move forward.
“Change is part of life and Hertford is ripe to break free from power centered among a few and instead allow the citizens to have a vote in who is our Sheriff,” she said. “As town residents we also pay county taxes that help fund the Perquimans County Sheriff Department. Let’s hope that is taken in to consideration. While I do not know the final numbers needed to balance the budget, if it makes financial sense to switch to county policing, let’s do it.”
A retired marine and law enforcement officer, Jack Brooks said it is possible to deploy fewer officers – and he’s done that when he was working in a small town on Maryland’s eastern shores. He said if a town hires the right people and pays them well, then small communities are not hard to police.