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Wednesday, 27 June 2012 00:00

Maggie police under the gun in budget talks

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The Maggie Valley Police Department will see minimal cuts to its new budget despite multiple discussions about whether the small valley has more officers than it needs.

The budget was cut by $55,000 to $854,000. The town will postpone replacing two police cars.

The police department replaces its cop cars every 5 years. With 11 cars in its fleet, the replacement schedule calls for two new cars every two years. Delaying the replacement for a year is doable, according to Maggie Police Chief Scott Sutton.

“As long as you have no major repairs, you’ll be fine,” said Sutton.

However, the decision came as a surprised to Sutton at a town budget meeting this week. Previously, the board talked about delaying the replacement of only one cop car.

Sutton didn’t learn the board wanted to delay the replacement of both the cars until it voted to do so at a meeting Monday.

“It would have been nice to have some discussion,” Sutton said.

The police department perhaps got off easy, given past discussions by the town board on the topic.

Just last week, the Maggie Valley town board talked about possibly trimming 10 percent from the police department’s budget at a workshop.

Members of the public rallied to the police department’s defense, appearing at the budget workshops in a show of solidarity. Likewise, those who felt the police department was too big made their presence felt at the meetings as well.

The budget talks were not the first time the subject of downsizing the department had arisen this year.

Early this February, the board discussed whether the town’s police presence is a bit much. Although the aldermen repeatedly stated they do not condone law breaking, some expressed concerns about an overwhelming police presence in the valley and whether it could be bad for business if people are detered from venturing to Maggie if they fear that the cops are simply waiting to bust someone.

At the time, Sutton said he had not heard any concerns about the number of cops on Soco Road, the main drag through Maggie Valley. In fact, he said, business owners and visitors like to see police around town.

The topic came up again at a board meeting earlier this month. Charlie Meadows, owner of Charlie’s Restaurant and Sweet Briar Motel, argued that the valley could do just as well with fewer police officers.

Maggie Valley’s population hovers around 1,150 full-time residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

It also has 10 fulltime police officers and five or six auxiliary officers — too many, Meadows said, given the amount of crime in the valley.

“We’ve got a $1 million police budget that could be cut in half,” Meadows said, refering to the previously proposed $914,000 police department budget.

But, a couple other Maggie residents completely disagreed.

While full-time residents only number about 1,000, Maggie’s population increases greatly as seasonal residents and tourists come to town. Maggie also has a high number of bars for a town of its size.

“If you are going to cut anything, the last thing I would cut would be the police force,” resident Beverly Ketner countered after Meadows spoke at meeting. “I have always felt very safe because of the police force in Maggie.”

Another resident argued that Maggie is so safe because of its strong police presence.

“The reason we have low crime is because we have a good force to help that crime stay low,” said Shirley Pinto.

 

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