Town of Unicoi studies costs of starting own police force

Brad Hicks • Apr 16, 2013 at 10:06 AM

UNICOI — The town of Unicoi continues to experience growth, and it’s because of this growth that Mayor Johnny Lynch said town officials must look at the possibility of providing additional police protection to the town’s residents.

Lynch said the town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen has had discussions and intends to have future discussions regarding the possibility of the town starting its own police force. The matter was briefly discussed at Monday’s meeting of the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen. No action on the matter was taken.

The town has an agreement in place in which it pays $90,000 a year for Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department coverage. Lynch said the town’s discussions of starting its own police force is not a reflection of the sheriff’s department, but would enhance the protection already in place.

“The sheriff’s doing a good job, and they’re doing an excellent job on this drug crackdown and all,” Lynch said after Monday’s meeting.

Lynch said the town has seen a recent increase in citizens’ complaints of speeders and parking violations. With liquor stores on the way and continued growth, Lynch said more Unicoi citizens have been asking about additional police protection.

“We’re looking to the future is what we’re trying to do,” he said.

The subject was discussed by the board of mayor and aldermen at its retreat in March and will be discussed further at the town’s budget workshops beginning in mid-May, Lynch said.

He also said the town has already sought guidance from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, which has advised the town that it could afford to start its own small-scale department. Lynch said town officials were advised the start-up costs of a police department, including the hiring of a couple of officers, would be around $140,000. He also said some of the funding the town pays for sheriff’s department protection could be used toward these costs.

Lynch said he also understands the sheriff’s department is not obligated to enforce the town’s ordinance, and additional protection from a town police department would lead to better enforcement of these laws. He said town officials have already spoken to officials with the UCSD, and the sheriff’s department has offered to help regardless of what direction the town takes.

“It’s inevitable,” Lynch said. “Sometime, we’re going to have to bite the bullet and go ahead and start a police force. So, the question is whether we need it now or we need it later.”

In other business, the board approved a resolution for the 2013 Strawberry Festival Parade. The festival will be held May 18 and, through the resolution, Unicoi Drive, Tennessee Street and Massachusetts Avenue will be closed from 8-10 a.m. on that day for the parade.

The board also approved a motion to change its community relations coordinator position to full-time for the remainder of the fiscal year. Molly Campbell was hired to this post in February.

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