It was a move that alarmed some members of the council.
“You can do without it,” said council member Bruce Hoffman. “... And suffer the consequence when crime increases.”
The $101,000 yearly contract allows for two deputies to provide special daily enforcement of the historic district from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Often deputies split their time between the on-foot downtown beat and in-car traffic enforcement.
In an argument that has become an annual disagreement between council members, some said that the city doesn’t have a crime rate that would warrant extra coverage, while others argued that the extra coverage is the very thing that keeps the crime rate low.
“There have been times when we have not had a contract and I don’t remember having a problem with crime,” said council member Terry Peters. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had a problem with crime in the area.”
The downtown enforcement level has been lighter than usual this year due to the departmental transfer of one city-paid deputy and the injury of another.
As a result, nearly $50,000 of the funds allotted to the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office have gone unused.
City council member Gerald Lord said this is proof that the “risk” for not re-upping the contract is low.
Mayor Gary McCullough disagreed.
“I think it’s a big mistake not to have some kind of presence around the square,” said McCullough. “All the merchants are very appreciative of it.”
Sheriff Stacy Jarrard said that without the contract, the city will be expected to provide their own security for municipal court sessions.
Hoffman pointed out that the extra presence comes in handy during the many festivals which take place in the downtown area.
“There’s a certain liability factor that I’ve explained that when we have public events it’s best to have a law enforcement presence,” he said. “We’re going to have to get in to the area of hiring off-duty deputies.”
Council member Johnny Ariemma said he agreed.
“We owe it to the merchants,” he said. “We owe it to our tourists. It’s part of the plan, it’s peace of mind. It makes sense.”
Council member Sam Norton said the decision is a matter of finances.
“If the county is successful in stripping us down in LOST [Local Option Sales Tax] numbers, then I don’t think we can afford this contract,” he said.
He added that the outcome of a city/county conflict over the payment of city-sentenced inmates is still undecided as well.
During the Monday meeting, the council approved a counter offer in which the city would pay the requested $35 a day for each inmate sentenced in municipal court.
They are now awaiting a reply from the county.
Meanwhile, the LCSO contract doesn’t expire until the end of the year, but if the council changes its mind, there could be a gap in coverage, said Jarrard.
“There will be some downtime because I’m going to have to pull a deputy back in, and we’re at full staff,” he said.
He added that he feels the extra coverage has a definite effect on the city, but one that’s hard to put on paper.
“You cannot measure what presence deters,” he said.