Stallings Town Council members will meet Monday night to consider limiting how far away their police officers can live, a move that officials say will save taxpayers more than $4,000 a year.
Like many cities and towns, Stallings lets its officers drive their cars home and use them when they are off duty. That increases the presence of marked police vehicles in the community as a deterrent to crime and provides responses of off-duty officers when an emergency happens, supporters of the plan say.
Currently, the town has an unofficial police vehicle policy that says that officers can live in communities that are 35 miles away. Thats roughly the distance from Stallings to communities like Cornelius, Concord and Wadesboro.
At a recent town board meeting, Mayor Lynda Paxton said that if every officer lived 35 miles from the town center, it would cost the town an additional $8,000 per vehicle annually in gasoline and maintenance.
I was concerned about the excessive mileage and maintenance costs added for town vehicles, Paxton said.
A policy allowing residency mileage limits of 35 miles from the town negates the benefits of the policy and increases the tax burden for residents, Paxton said.
Also, the distance increases the chances that the town-owned vehicle will be involved in a car accident, said Councilman Paul Frost.
A recent staff study revealed that only a few officers live more than 15 miles outside of the town. If the new policy is adopted, officers outside a 15-mile limit would be grandfathered in, officials said.
The policy currently costs the town about $21,022 annually, the staff study said. If all officers are required to live within 15 miles of the town, the cost would fall to $16,921 annually.
Stallings Police Chief Minor Plyler declined to comment, noting that this is a pending board decision.
Staff acknowledged that the mileage limits are quite generous, and Chief Plyler did not think lower limits would hinder his ability to hire good officers, Paxton said.
On Sunday, town officials said they hope to agree on a police vehicle policy that is in line with other police departments in the area.
At the Gastonia Police Department, officers who live outside city limits and use a police vehicle to commute must pay a rate of 20 cents per mile, which is taken out of their paycheck.
Officers are also limited to living in the bordering counties of York, Cleveland, Mecklenburg and Lincoln, Gastonia police Capt. Reid Brafford said, adding that 90 of the departments 177 sworn officers live outside the city.
Concord police set the limit for take-home vehicles at the Cabarrus County line. Exceptions are made for officers in assignments that require them to be on call, said Deputy Chief Allen Overcash.
In Matthews, take-home marked vehicles are allowed within a 10-mile area outside the town. Some officers, such as investigators and K-9 officers, are allowed a 15-mile maximum residency radius, said town spokeswoman Annette Privette Keller.
She noted that the life expectancy of vehicles has increased from three to four years for shared vehicles to eight to 10 years for take-home cars because the assigned officer has a greater sense of ownership in the vehicle.
Stallings Councilman Fred Weber said he also supported a 15-mile limit.
I think thats a realistic distance. And it gives us the opportunity to have a wide enough area to grab from a pool of competent officers, he said.
He added that at the police departments inception in 2003, it was necessary to have a looser vehicle policy in order to lure police officers into our department.
Now that were situated, its not quite as necessary, he said.
By changing the policy, officials can be confident theyre being as prudent as possible with taxpayer dollars, Frost said.
What it comes down to ... is that the taxpayers expect us to be prudent with their dollars, he said. The more money you spend allowing officers to drive 70 miles a day, the less you can spend on playground equipment and patching roads and building sidewalks.