FAIRMONT — The Fairmont Board of Commissioners at its Tuesday night meeting discussed disbanding the town’s Police and Fire departments and contracting out those emergency services, a move the police chief says could slow response times and mean fewer crimes solved.
The board voted to have Town Manager Linda Vause conduct a feasibility study to be presented at the board’s March 13 meeting. The motion was put forth by Commissioner Terry Evans and is an effort to save money. Forty-two people work in those departments.
If the board eliminates those departments, services would be contracted out to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and the Fairmont Rural Fire Department, Vause said.
“We would have to weigh out what we’d have to pay the county vs. what it costs to run our own department,” Vause said. Currently, Fairmont pays $15 per resident for its communications services, Vause said. The town spent $1,035,786 on its Department of Public Safety during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, according to an audit.
Vause will have to determine whether the Sheriff’s Office and the Fairmont Rural Fire Department are interested in taking on Fairmont’s calls, which totaled 4,253 during 2013.
Chief Danny Parker, head of the Department of Public Safety, said the meeting was the first “official” talk he heard of dissolving those departments.
“I wasn’t surprised because I had gotten a little bit of rumors prior to the meeting that it was going to come up,” Parker said. “I’m going to monitor things and go from there and continue to keep running things as if it was never mentioned … we’ll deal with it whenever the board votes on it.”
Parker said the Sheriff’s Office hired several Fairmont communications employees when the town contracted out that service in October. The police division currently has about 15 employees.
If services were completely transferred “residents will obviously see a decrease in response times,” according to Parker. He said the Sheriff’s Office is already burdened by a high volume of calls.
If the Fire Departments’ duties were transferred, Parker said, local businesses would likely see an increase in insurance rates.
“The biggest person that will be hit is businesses in the town of Fairmont,” Parker said, noting residents could see a smaller hike as well. The fire division has about 27 employees.
The vote came after Parker presented the town’s annual crime report.
Parker reported that arrests were made in 441 of 671 crimes in Fairmont during 2013 — about 66 percent, including the only two murders.
Fairmont police solved at least 60 percent of cases in most categories of crime, except for breaking and entering and larceny, Parker said. In 2013, 17 arrests were made in 76 break-ins and thefts reported, about 22 percent. Parker said four or five habitual criminals are responsible for about 75 percent of all break-ins in the town.
“It all depends on who is in jail, who is in the community and who they know,” Parker said. In 2012, Fairmont had a break-in “solvability” rate of 27 percent, the highest that year in the county.
In other business, the board:
— Voted to ask the state legislature to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase within the town.
— Voted to accept bids for the town’s sanitation services. Waste Management has handled those services for at least 15 years and currently does not charge the town for use of five Dumpsters at municipal buildings, Vause said.
— Adopted a county ordinance on solid waste flow that prohibits haulers from taking waste outside of Robeson County. The county loses tipping fees when waste is taken to out-of-county landfills.
— Amended the town budget to account for unexpected costs to repair three bridges that cross Pittman Mill Branch. Vause said the money will come from Powell Bill funds. The state Department of Transportation originally estimated the repairs would cost $7,419 but the final cost came out to $18,715.
— Accepted offers on two foreclosed properties up for sale — one at 505 Gertrude St., which earned a bid of $1,200 from Jonathan Grissett; and another at 205 Liberia St., which earned an offer of $1,000 from Anthony Pittman. The board also voted to advertise for competing offers. Money from those sales will go into the town’s General Fund.
— Recognized newly-elected Junior Beta Club Vice President and Fairmont Middle School seventh-grader Logan Cameron.