FAIRMONT — Public Safety officers didn’t lose their ride on Tuesday when the Fairmont Board of Commissioners rejected a motion that would have prohibited officers living outside town from driving police cars home.
Commissioners J.J. McCree, Charles Townsend and Carol Leak-McKenzie voted for the motion, and Wayland Lennon III, Perry Ashley and Wade Sealey voted against, creating a tie that was broken by Mayor Charles Kemp.
McCree made the motion, saying the town needed to cut costs to rebuild its General Fund as mandated by the state Local Government Commission.
“They specifically told us to go back, raise what we could, cut what we could,” McCree said. “… If we weren’t under what the state was requiring, I wouldn’t be considering this option.”
A report provided by the Department of Public Safety indicated that the town spent about $5,800 during 2011 for the 14 vehicles in the Administration, Investigation, Patrol and Fire divisions to be driven home by officers. The greatest distance an officer drove home was 16 miles.
In the past, officers have been allowed to drive the cars home in lieu of receiving a 2.5 percent yearly raise, according to the report. Chief Danny Parker said the town is actually saving money by allowing the use of the vehicles instead of giving raises.
Parker warned the commissioners of potential repercussions, reminding them that Fairmont’s officers are the lowest paid in Robeson County and haven’t received a raise in nearly four years.
“These guys understand the town’s tight budget, but we’ve got some experienced officers and we need to keep them as long as we can,” Parker said. “Because if not, the crime rate’s going to go up because if we bring new officers in, those guys are not familiar with the criminals that are walking the streets … . These guys will have no choice because you’re forcing them to have to seek other employment.”
Parker said all but two of the vehicles are equipped with a GPS system that notifies him if an officer has strayed from his route home.
“Because we did raise the taxes last year, because of the other changes that we’ve made, the other consolidations … I think we’ve done the types of things that demonstrate to the state that we’re doing what we need to do,” Kemp said.
“With Chief Parker’s presentation showing that the town would face some public safety issues that would affect the citizens in a negative way, I wanted to vote to support the public safety department in the face of those potential challenges.”
In other action, the board:
— Accepted a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture detailing the conditions of a $385,000 loan from the department for repairs to the sewer system. The $1 million project is being paid for in part by a N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant of $600,000.
— Considered a plan by Town Manager Linda Vause that calls for Town Clerk Jenny Larson and Public Works Director Ronnie Seals to handle the enforcement of the town’s codes and ordinances.
— Rejected Emmett Sullivan’s bid to purchasee the properties at 319 S. Main St. and 309 S. Main St. for $500 each.
— Heard from Tony Bridgett, executive director of the Dream Academy in Fairmont, who wants to organize several events in town for Easter weekend, including a Good Friday program, an Easter egg hunt and a basketball tournament.