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Stockbridge looks at
service delivery options

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  Three of the four cities in Henry County have their own police departments. The lone exception is Stockbridge – also the largest city in the county by population.

  For more than two decades, the Henry County Police Department has been responsible for police service to Stockbridge, and currently the city pays $500,000 to the county each year for that service.

The Harold L. Cochran Public Safety Center in Stockbridge serves as the Henry County Police North Precinct. Stockbridge remains the only city in Henry County without its own police department.                                                    Special photo

  Citizens and elected officials elsewhere in Henry County have suggested that Stockbridge is getting a sweet deal, and the fee should go up. Others have tossed around the idea of Stockbridge forming its own police department, and that discussion seems to heat up every few years.

  But Mayor Mark Alarcon suggested last week that putting such an emphasis on police service is not what city officials are doing.

  House Bill 489 dictates that municipalities formulate a service delivery strategy (SDS). In Henry County, that means that county officials and leaders from all four cities have to reach intergovernmental agreements in more than 40 categories.

  According to Alarcon, police service is one of those categories being looked at – no more and no less than any of the others right now.

  The SDS is being re-evaluated because local option sales tax (LOST) negotiations were completed a few months ago. The cities will split 35 percent of the pie this year and next year, and 34 percent from 2015-2022.

  Stockbridge’s share of that amount will gradually increase, from 11.03 percent this year to 11.14 percent next year, 11.25 percent in 2015 and 11.36 percent in 2016. Each city’s share is based upon population.

  On top of that, county and city officials are trying to determine what items they want on the list for a new SPLOST that will go before the voters later this year. That list is expected to be finalized by the end of this month.

  “For some reason, it seems that the police piece of the SDS is getting more attention than anything else,” said Alarcon. “We are not at all dissatisfied with the current police service in Stockbridge. We have to look at things from a fiscally conservative standpoint as far as the best use of our dollars.”

  The mayor noted that recent SPLOST talks included a $900,000 police vehicle cost estimate on the city’s side of the ledger.

  “The question was raised at the time whether this would be used by us to start a new police department or to purchase for the county. The bottom line is, those are monies that need to be addressed no matter which way it goes,” he said.

  The City Council has not discussed service delivery in general or police service in particular in 2013.

  “When it comes to public safety, it is not all about dollars and cents. It is about what we are elected to do with regard to the protection of all our citizens,” said Alarcon. “This is a process that has to be exercised and managed whether it is sanitation or any other category. Police service should not get any more attention that the others.”

  As for the $500,000 annual cost to the city for the police, Alarcon noted that the department’s Stockbridge precinct now sits in “a $1.3 million state-of-the-art facility, and the city of Stockbridge pays 100 percent of the bond against that building.” He added that the Cochran Library and the tag office, both of which are operated by the county, are located in buildings owned by the city, which also donated the property for the new Fire Station 9.

  “We have, historically, had great success collaboratively between the city of Stockbridge and the county when it comes to service delivery, and the intergovernmental agreement is just a more detailed way of defining how those services are being done,” said Alarcon. “There is a lot that Stockbridge brings to the table when it comes to service delivery strategy.”

  On the county side, Board of Commissioners Chairman Tommy Smith said that while he is “always looking at every avenue to ensure the citizens of Henry County get a fair shake,” any possible change in police service for Stockbridge is far off on the horizon.

  “There has been talk about it ever since I became chairman,” said Smith. “But as far as officially talking to Stockbridge, I have not talked to the first person about this since I have been in office. I don’t know how the City Council is going to look at it, and it’s none of my business.”

  Smith conceded that he has heard comments from many people in the county outside of Stockbridge who think the city’s current deal is “like a gravy train. The service they are getting and what the county is supplementing is mind-boggling.”

  One comment that perhaps represented both sides of the argument was expressed by District IV Commissioner Reid Bowman, whose district includes most of the city of Stockbridge.

  “While each city has to determine what is in its best interest, as does the county, we need to remember that Stockbridge residents are a part of Henry County and pay county taxes like everyone else,” said Bowman.

 

 

©Henry County Times, Inc.