Sheriff pitches police plan to Marlinton council
Marlinton will have to decide between the men in green and the men in black.
Sheriff David Jonese has developed a plan for the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department to take over the town's law enforcement from the State Police and said his plan will save money and increase police coverage.
Deputy Chris Cole briefed council on the plan during the March 9 council meeting.
Marlinton currently spends more than $56,000 annually for three-to-four nights' coverage by State Police troopers. Every councilmember has praised the troopers' performance.
Cole said the sheriff's department would provide a dedicated deputy five days a week and other officers the remaining two days at an annual cost of $51,526.
In addition to cost savings, Cole described other benefits to the sheriff's plan: more police coverage; no disruption of service due to transporting arrestees to the regional jail; a local employee who would know the people and the area, and the support and assistance of the Sheriff's Auxiliary.
Councilmember Loretta Malcomb disputed Cole's assertion that availability of state troopers for town duty is a problem.
"We don't have that problem because there are 17 on the list that they rotate from," she said. "There are 17 officers signed up to be in this community. So, the availability is there."
Malcomb also questioned whether having a local officer was beneficial.
"A local officer knows the area and knows the people -- sometimes, that's not a good thing," she said. "The 'good old boy system.' If they don't know the people -- a professional officer doesn't have to know the people. He's just doing his job."
Cole responded that, as a deputy, he treats everybody the same, whether or not he knows them.
Malcomb said the State Police has made a big difference in Marlinton.
"I live on the corner on Main Street," she said. "I live and work there, so I see what goes on. I've seen what has gone on for the 14 years I've lived here and I have never seen it so quiet since we have had the State Police doing this job for us."
The councilmember questioned whether the auxiliary was properly trained.
"It seems to me they are doing duties that I'm not so sure they're trained or have the experience to do, already" she said.
Cole said he had been appointed training officer for the Sheriff's Auxiliary and that training sessions would begin on March 17.
"They are not sworn personnel," he said. "However, they are here as support. They will help out in areas such as business checks, to check on residents who may be elderly and can't get out in inclement weather and anything like that."
Cole said county deputies could enforce town ordinances with county commission approval.
Councilmember Norris Long said he wasn't sure that would be legal.
"It remains a question," he said. "It did become an issue when the sheriff was here before. He did not think that it was possible. I do not know what legal changes may have occurred, since then, but there's been no information that's come my way to say that you can."
Councilmember Joe Smith questioned the legality of a two-year commitment, as requested by the sheriff.
"I have a question about that two-year commitment," he said. "Would there be a cut clause in that? The town is facing an election in three months and this whole body might change. Well, not the whole body, but it could change and the next administration may not want to participate -- they might want to have the town police back."
Recorder Robin Mutscheller said she had requested a legal opinion from the Municipal League about the two-year commitment, but had not received a response. County Prosecutor Donna Meadows Price said she would research the two-year commitment question and provide an opinion.
Councilmember David Zorn said he would keep an open mind.
"I think the State Police have done an excellent job, but there's always room for improvement," he said. "It looks like this would offer better coverage, or more coverage, at a lesser cost and I'm just open to that."
Council tabled action on the sheriff's plan until it receives more information on enforcement of town ordinances and the legality of a two-year commitment. Council directed the mayor to place the issue on the agenda for April.
Mutscheller, who is the town flood control project coordinator, reported that the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation would replace the Greenbrier Valley Conservation District as fiscal agent for the Marlinton Flood Control Project. Council voted 6-0 to approve Mutscheller's preparation of necessary documents.
Council considered five names for appointment to the Marlinton Housing Authority: John Snyder, Roger Trusler, Marcia Tester, Nelson Hernandez and Agust Gudmundsson.
Authority member Fred Burns previously recommended Snyder and Trusler.
Mutscheller moved to appoint Snyder and Trusler; Smith seconded.
Councilmember Norris Long suggested conducting a tally, with the two candidates receiving the most votes gaining the appointments. Mutscheller said council had to vote on her motion, which passed 4-2, with Long and councilmember David Zorn opposing.
Chapter 16, article 15 of the state code allows creation of housing authorities with "all powers necessary or appropriate in order that they may engage in low and moderate cost housing development and slum clearance projects."
Council conducted the second and final reading of an updated refuse and garbage ordinance. The ordinance changes the bi-monthly rate schedule for restaurants, which is based on seating capacity, as follows: 25 or less seats, $60; 26-50 seats, $90; 51-75 seats, $125; more than 75 seats and fast food restaurants, $175.
Council voted 6-0 to approve the ordinance, which goes into effect immediately. See pocahontastimes.com to view the entire ordinance.
Council approved the budget for fiscal year 2011-2012, which will be submitted to the state auditor's office for approval.
The budget estimates general fund revenue of $902,241, including $138,072 in property tax revenue and $137,314 in refuse collection revenue. A budget summary appears in the legal advertising section.
During the mayor's report, Mayor Dennis Driscoll said a manhole on the west end of the Greenbrier River bridge had been repaired, at a cost of $1,700.
Driscoll said the town office needed a new copy machine contract. Mutscheller asked him to put the item on next month's agenda for council approval.
In other business, Marlinton council:
-- unanimously confirmed spring cleanup for the second week in April, with a fee of $10 to $25, depending on the amount of trash picked up.
-- tabled action on street repairs requested by Dwayne Kennison.
-- voted 6-0 to authorize Mutscheller to hire election workers, at a rate of $125 per day.
-- voted 6-0 to approve a change order to the sewage system upgrade project to include a $20,000 upgrade to the sewage treatment plant electrical system. Leftover project funds will be used to fund the additional work.
-- scheduled a special meeting for April 19 to approve a levy, following approval of the municipal budget.
The next regular Marlinton council meeting is scheduled for April 13, 7 p.m. at the municipal building.