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Council split on level of police protection

Indian Trail vote comes after public safety panel recommended hiring of 8 officers.

By Marty Minchin
Special Correspondent

Indian Trail residents won't have a property tax increase this year, but Town Council members split their vote on the town budget because of disagreements about what level of police protection the town needs.

The Town Council approved its 2009-2010 budget 3-2 Tuesday. One provision would hire five new Union County sheriff's officers to patrol the town.

Council members Dan Schallenkamp and John Hullinger voted no, saying they want the council to follow an advisory committee's recommendation to hire eight new officers.

“When it comes to public safety, that's not an area I want to skimp on,” Hullinger said.

The town property tax rate will remain 14.5 cents per $100 valuation, or about $290 for a home valued at $200,0000.

The split vote came after the newly formed Indian Trail public safety committee spent several months studying what level of police service Indian Trail needs.

Committee members used information from comparable towns, a recent Indian Trail police study conducted by UNC Charlotte and a formula using calls for service and population projections to come up with the recommendation for eight new officers, said committee chairman Brian McLamb.

Town elected officials have been divided in the past over whether Indian Trail should create its own police force.

The town currently contracts with the Union County Sheriff's Department for officers. Thirteen officers now work in the town. Also, zone officers from the sheriff's office cover Indian Trail.

Mayor John Quinn said that in the past, the town has paid for more sheriff's officers without a plan for police coverage. The public safety committee was formed to help the town research questions about public safety.

“I wonder, what is the point of having the committee do all that work if we're not going to take their recommendation?” Quinn said Tuesday. “Our commitment as a town needs to be a better commitment and a more serious commitment (to our citizens).”

McLamb said he considered the public safety committee he chaired as more of a “think tank” than a policy making board.

“I don't feel like all that work was for nothing,” he said. “Even what (the council) passed is still a huge step.”

The council will pay for the five officers in part with $242,000 budgeted last year as a matching contribution to a public safety grant that was not awarded.

Other budget items discussed include:

Adding almost $600,000 to the town's savings account for road improvements, which keeps a commitment to reserve 2 cents of the tax rate annually for roads.

Town Engineer Scott Kaufhold said town savings combined with federal money the town receives for road projects will provide almost $20 million for road projects in the next five years.

Concerns from Schallenkamp that the town had chosen to cut funding to outside agencies, including $1,300 to Turning Point and $1,000 to the Red Cross. Some council members have said they were uncomfortable deciding where to donate taxpayers' money.

“We cut all these agencies that serve the citizens of Indian Trail,” Schallenkamp said.

The town has allocated $10,400 to outside agencies next year, down from $17,750 last year, according to Indian Trail Finance Director Marsha Sutton.

Approving $120,000 to buy five cars for the new sheriff's officers. Council members said buying vehicles for the officers was not in the town's contract with the sheriff's office, but the town was asked to buy the cars this year.

“Hopefully, we'll get back in line with the contract in years to come,” said council member Jeff Goodall.

Sutton said the town was able to absorb the cost of the cars of the budget. The town also will recoup the cost within four years because the sheriff's office has reduced the cost of each new officer by $6,000.

No one spoke at a public hearing Tuesday on the budget, although Quinn read a statement from town resident Roger Fish, who could not attend. Fish suggested ways to make the budget more accessible to the public.

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