This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
Town leaders took a pass on paying for increased security in Sawmills at a budget retreat Thursday evening, effectively striking money for a contract with either the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department or Griffith Security from next year’s projected budget.
The budget still has to be approved by council, but Town Administrator Seth Eckard said he doesn’t think support for either contract will show back up.
“I think one can safely say that after tonight’s meeting, the town council will not be pursuing Griffith Security Service nor enter into a contract with the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department for police services in this coming fiscal year’s budget,” Eckard wrote in an email after the meeting.
Sawmills has the densest population in the county and, according to the sheriff’s office, produces about 3,000 calls for sheriff’s deputies in a year’s time. The town doesn’t have its own police force.
The town council had considered addressing that issue by contracting for security services, either from the county or Griffith, which is based in Hickory.
Paying to have an off-duty sheriff’s deputy patrol the town five hours a day for a year would have cost the town about $36,500, Capt. B.J. Fore said at an earlier budget meeting.
Services from Griffith run lower — the town had budgeted $8,000 — but a security officer would not have arrest powers. For serious issues, a sheriff’s deputy still would have to be called.
The subject was heavily debated. An informal vote at the town’s March 6 budget meeting showed three council members in favor of contracting with the county and two opposed.
When asked which option she’d prefer, Councilwoman Trena McRary Kirby – a vocal opponent of the proposed county contract – said, “Nothing.”
Councilman Donnie Potter, one of the strongest supporters of the county proposal, said if that others didn’t want the sheriff’s deputies, he’d rather not go with Griffith either.
Sawmills has been particularly austere this budget season, with council members making cuts to a number of suggested expenditures and rigidly questioning others.
Items that seemed to go on the chopping block at Thursday’s meeting include a new garbage truck logo, a snowplow, a bridge dedication and a second cash register for Town Hall.
Other items, including a new basketball court, a biometric time clock for town employees, an ad in the News-Topic’s annual Caldwell book and bathrooms in Veterans Park, were subjected to heavy scrutiny.