Sheriff talks law enforcement with Marlinton council
Pocahontas County Sheriff David Jonese told Marlinton town council that his department is prepared to expand its law enforcement coverage in the town, if council decides to contract for dedicated town service.
Deputy Chris Cole briefed council on the Sheriff's proposal last month, when Jonese was attending the PCHS girls basketball state tournament game. The sheriff attended this month's council meeting on April 13 to answer questions and provide additional details.
Jonese said his department could provide seven days per week coverage, 20 hours a day, for $56,000, after a new deputy was hired. The West Virginia State Police currently provides three-to-four night's coverage in town at the same cost.
"At the $56,000 plus mark, which is what you currently pay, this past year, you would have seven full days, plus the rest of the time that we're here, which is about 20 hours a day," he said
The sheriff cited statistics to show his department accounts for a preponderance of law enforcement activity in the county. Jonese said his deputies had responded to 2,344 out of 2,999 9-1-1 calls in 2010 and 588 out of 842 9-1-1 calls so far this year. Since January, the Sheriff's Department made 29 out of 43 felony arrests in the county and issued 105 out of 159 citations in Marlinton.
"Our numbers reflect about three-to-one, as far as response to calls, which is our goal," he said. "We want to be the department that everyone understands is going to be there for them."
The sheriff discussed community activities, other than law enforcement, that his department supports, including an annual kids camp, 4-H camp support, school classes and counseling and fundraising events.
"It's not all about making arrests," he said.
Jonese said his department has a good working relationship with the State Police.
"We have no issues working along with the State Police," he said. "We have regulations and we work well together, so there is no issue about that."
Councilmembers asked questions and expressed concerns.
Recorder Robin Mutscheller said she was concerned with a two-year commitment requested by the sheriff and was unclear about the department's ability to enforce town ordinances. The recorder said she had spoken with many people who urged her to support continuing with State Police service.
"Overwhelmingly, people asked me to support not making a change, right now," she said.
County Prosecutor Donna Meadows-Price told council that she had researched the local ordinance question but had not come to a conclusion. The prosecutor said the county commission cut funding for the Westlaw legal research service, making her task more difficult.
Mutscheller said she had done some research of her own.
"When this issue came up before, the sheriff, at that time, told us that they could not," she said. "I did some research and I was unable to find any municipality that had contracted with a sheriff's department. The only contracts that were in place were with the State Police."
Meadows-Price said the State Police has clear, codified authority to enforce town ordinances, whereas sheriff's departments do not. She said she expected to have a conclusive answer to the question within the next couple weeks.
B.J. Gudmundsson said she had called the State Police phone number one evening and was told no officer was in the area. She said she called 9-1-1 the following evening and received a fairly quick response. The Marlinton resident said she thought she was supposed to call the State Police phone number because of the town's State Police contract.
Councilmembers instructed Gudmundsson that the proper number to call for emergencies is 9-1-1, not the State Police phone number.
Mutscheller moved that council continue with the State Police contract and Loretta Malcomb seconded. After continued discussion, council decided to table the issue and convene its law enforcement committee to prepare a recommendation for next month's meeting, when it expects more information to be available. The town's contract with the State Police expires on July 6.
Allen Johnson, county libraries director, requested a $3,000 council donation for McClintic Library. Johnson said many towns and cities in West Virginia contribute to their local libraries and distributed a list of libraries throughout the state, including the amount of funding they receive from state and local sources.
Johnson said a newly-imposed $216 bi-monthly sprinkler fee had added to the library's hard-pressed finances, but that the library accepts paying their fair share of fees.
Joe Smith strongly supported the donation.
"I'd like to say I think we have an excellent library," he said. "I personally use the library a good bit. I will very much support an annual contribution to our library. You see a lot of people over there and a lot of people have meetings over there. It's just a nice facility," he said.
Due to the upcoming end of the fiscal year in July, council voted unanimously to approve a $1,500 donation for fiscal year 2011 and asked Johnson to return for a second requisition after July 10.
During the mayor's report, Mayor Dennis Driscoll told council that it would have to hire two more employees. Driscoll said cemetery assistant Frankie Kennison had retired and a trash truck driver was leaving in June, a position which requires a CDL.
The mayor said town crews had repaired a water leak on Ninth Street, which was losing an estimated 200,000 gallons per month.
Mutscheller, the town flood project coordinator, said the Corps of Engineers was preparing models of the Marlinton flood control project for public demonstration. She said project officials wanted to hold public meetings and demonstrate the models as soon as they were finished. Mutscheller said interested persons could review the entire project plan in the mayor's office and that she would try to make the plans available on CD and on the Internet.
In other business, Marlinton council:
- unanimously approved a $100 expenditure for a WVMR summer tourism package.
- unanimously accepted the high bid of $1,807 from Chicago Motors, Inc. for the sale of the former town police car, a 2000 Chevrolet Impala.
- unanimously approved budget revisions to the general fund and coal severance fund.
- unanimously approved an expenditure of $2,000 for July 4 fireworks.
The next regular Marlinton council meeting is scheduled for May 11, 7 p.m. in the municipal building.