12/10/08 — LaGrange considering contract with Lenoir County sheriff

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LaGrange considering contract with Lenoir County sheriff

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on December 10, 2008 1:46 PM

LAGRANGE -- Police officers met at the town's Railroad Street station Tuesday night, presumably to discuss the town's initial move to disband the Police Department and contract services with the Lenoir County Sheriff's Office.

Town Manager John Craft said he had approached the Lenoir County commissioners to ask for permission to seek a contract with the Lenoir County Sheriff's Office.

"I won't say that, I wouldn't say that we're planning on dissolving it (the police department)," Craft said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. "That's very, very early in these stages, disbanding is a bit strong at this point. But that could be possible."

Craft said like many municipalities, LaGrange is seeking ways to cut its $6.6 million total annual budget.

The Police Department, Craft said, has an annual budget of $664,100, representing about 39 percent of the town's general fund of $1.6 million.

Interim Police Chief Jerry Davis deferred all comment in the matter to the town manager.

Craft said money is certainly a consideration in approaching Lenoir County officials for police protection.

The town manager noted that the Sheriff's Office already has jurisdiction in the town, which has a total population just under 3,000.

"We are feeling the pain of the economy just like every other municipality, and county in the state, and the state, for that matter," Craft said. "One of the first things that we looked at is, 'Where do we duplicate services?'"

The department currently employs 10 full-time officers and five part-time officers, he said.

"(County) law enforcement is funded by our taxpayers, as well as the citizens that live outside the corporate limits of LaGrange," Craft said. "The intent is not to reduce coverage. Anything that we are discussing will not reduce the coverage that we provide."

Should the arrangement meet with approval from commissioners, the Lenoir County Sheriff's Office would stand to gain a few employees, he said.

The LaGrange town council had already given Craft permission to seek an agreement with the Lenoir County Sheriff's Department, he added.

"Obviously, they would have to beef up to provide for our needs, because they don't do that right now," Craft said. "What we've proposed to the county, and this is very early in the game, to be getting very finite with these discussions, is two officers, 24 hours a day."

The LaGrange manager noted that the town's citizens were already paying for Sheriff's Office coverage, whether they receive it or not.

"It's just a matter of economics and economies of scale," Craft said. "We're just really small, and we need to consider those things to keep cost at a minimum, while providing the necessary coverage and service."