We suspect our reaction was much the same as others when they read in this paper Tuesday that town officials in Unicoi are thinking of starting their own police department.
One logical question might be: Is there a pressing need to create (from scratch, mind you) a new police force for a town with a population of just barely under 3,700 residents? Does the crime rate in Unicoi merit such action?
As Erwin Bureau Chief Brad Hicks reported this week, Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch fears continued growth in the town could bring about the need for a stronger police presence. Currently, the town pays the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department $90,000 a year for law enforcement services.
Even for that amount, Lynch said Monday, the sheriff’s department is under no legal obligation to enforce town codes.
Lynch said town citizens are wanting to see a crackdown on speeders and parking violators. And with the liquor stores soon to open, residents would feel safer with more local cops about. (Curious, though, that the latter concern wasn’t raised earlier.)
Town officials have vowed to never levy a property tax on the citizens of Unicoi. Of course, the mayor and aldermen in Unicoi don’t have to worry about paying for many municipal services because the town doesn’t offer garbage collection or operate its own school system.
Instead, those services are paid for by county taxpayers (which, of course, Unicoi residents are counted among). And the town of Unicoi has the luxury of funding the few services it does offer through sales taxes.
But things could change with a police department. Lynch estimates it would cost $140,000 to hire a couple of police officers. Does that amount cover the annual cost to train and equip them? What added liability risk does the town take on by creating its own police department?
Another important question to be answered is: Where will the money to fund this new department come from? Will Unicoi become Tennessee’s latest tiny town speed trap?
We are hopeful Unicoi officials will take the time needed to research these issues. In the meantime, you can Sound off on this topic by sending comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification purposes. We will print responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.