Petition drives ongoing, council members say survey should determine end result
For some Stallings residents, the idea of eliminating the police department doesn’t sit well. They don’t want the operations outsourced to contract deputies from the sheriff’s office, with no guarantee from the county that all of the current officers would be hired. Instead, the group set out to collect as many signatures as possible, going door to door, holding events and attempting to, in their words, raise awareness of the issue.
“What we’re saying is we want to keep our existing services,” Stallings resident Shawna Steele said. “We don’t have a problem with the five year financial plan they’re working on, we agree that’s needed. Just don’t take away our police department.”
The group of volunteers went door to door over the past two weeks, collecting signatures and support for two petitions. The first is only for Stallings residents, with a second for business and property owners.
“Our homes, schools and families are better served and protected by our existing police department,” the petition reads. “We are not against the five year financial plan review; we are not against trying to save money, but not at the cost of our safety.”
Over 500 people had joined the group’s Facebook page, labeled ‘Support the Stallings, NC Police Department’, as of Wednesday, Oct. 6. Most are either residents or property owners in Stallings. Others from as far away as Florida and Colorado are also members, as a way of showing support for another department.
The biggest question the members seem to raise however is why look at disbanding the department?
“If we will receive the same level of service [with the deputies], then why do we need to outsource the police?” Stallings resident Jason Klingler asked.
On a yearly basis, the police department takes up between 38 to 40 percent of the Stallings budget. As the town’s finance committee examines data en route to developing a five year capital plan, Mayor Lynda Paxton, Mayor Pro Tem Wyatt Dunn and Councilman Paul Frost all supported taking a look at outsourcing public safety needs, replacing the department with contract deputies from the sheriff’s office.
Steele said the group recognizes the need to be fiscally responsible, but they wonder why the town can’t make changes within the department’s structure, rather than disband the entire thing.
“If we do a manpower survey and [it] says we need 16 officers or 30 officers, then so be it, but let the process play out,” Steele said. “I feel that hasn’t occurred. We already have the cars, the uniforms, the equipment all paid for. If we disband the department, there’s no guarantee the county could even afford to buy them from us, much less cover their portion of the cost for deputies.”
For Dunn, the possible advantage of outsourcing comes with lower costs. In an email Saturday, Oct. 2 to Stallings residents on his mailing list, Dunn outlined where he believed the savings would come.
“The savings with outsourcing is we would not have to pay for a Chief, Assistant Chief, three detectives and two administrative persons,” Dunn wrote. “Stallings would get these services with the taxes we already pay every year to Union County. The other savings with outsourcing is the town does not have to fund the officers retirement.”
In the same email however, Dunn stated that ‘the Stallings Police Department will not be disbanded. No council member wants that,” he wrote. “The model may change but it will never be disbanded.”
The email was sent out the afternoon of the Shannamara Safety Fair, the subdivision where Dunn lives. He asked readers to challenge anyone who said the council wants to eliminate the department.
“Please challenge anybody that says the Stallings police department will be disbanded because that is not accurate,” Dunn wrote.
The Shannamara subdivision recently held their own survey of sorts, regarding public safety. Rumors spread that the survey had supported or rejected eliminating a police department, but neither is true. The survey, which 20 Shannamara residents answered, asked if people felt the subdivision should spend extra money for police patrols, in response to recent vandalism attacks. Out of the 20 respondents, 86 percent said no, because their Stallings tax dollars already went for police protection. Also on the survey, 65 percent of residents stated that extra patrols, having a visible police presence in their neighborhood, was the chief concern.
The ‘Support the Stallings Police’ group attempted to get a booth at the fair, but after originally being approved, were denied, told that political groups were not allowed. That confused Steele and other group members, who admittedly have repeatedly disagreed with the mayor in the past, with Steele herself calling for Paxton’s resignation before in the public comments section of council meetings. They didn’t see how that past history made them a political group.
“All of the documents we post on our Facebook page are taken directly from either the town’s website or the county’s records,” Steele said. “How are we providing inaccurate information?”
Survey to determine department’s future?
Speaking later with Union County Weekly, Dunn stood by his email, but pointed to a qualifier, in regards to the department’s future. In August, the town council agreed to develop questions for a citizen survey, to see what services residents want.
“The town survey comes first,” Dunn wrote. “Stallings PD will not be disbanded but the model may change, however the survey will determine this action.”
Outsourcing would only be an option if the deputies could provide equal or better protection, Dunn said, adding that question will be addressed through the current analysis by the finance committee.
He also acknowledged that adding any deputies would have to be the purview of the Union County Board of Commissioners and the town council is currently unaware if the board would approve a request for contract deputies.
Another question comes via the mayor’s October newsletter to town residents. In it, Paxton says “no one has ever mentioned elimination or reduction of police services for the town.”
Residents supporting the police department point to that as a contradiction, arguing that the discussion over doing a manpower study was in fact a consideration of reducing services. Also in Dunn’s email to residents, he lists downsizing the current Stallings Police Department as one of the options available. Paxton however states that no reduction of police services has been mentioned, meaning if any reduction in force were to occur, the same level of service would be expected.
Several meetings will be held with the department’s future as part of the focus in coming weeks. The Support the Stallings Police Department group will hold an event Saturday, Oct. 9 from 1 to 9 p.m. At Skinnyz Bar & Grille, 15060 Idlewild Road, Suite I. The Finance Committee’s next meeting is Friday, Oct. 15 at 8 a.m, at the Stallings Town Hall, 321 Stallings Road. Finally, the town council will accept the petition Monday, Oct. 11 at their regularly scheduled 7 p.m meeting.