If Frankford and Dagsboro unify their police departments, Frankford residents could pay more than $200 per year in additional town taxes, beyond what they currently pay, according to figures presented at an informational meeting in the Frankford fire hall on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Under the current proposal, the unified police department would grow from Dagsboro’s current four officers to six total, with all officers reporting to Dagsboro’s current police chief, Floyd Toomey. Frankford has been relying on Delaware State Police coverage since the departure of former police chief Mark Hudson in July.
Toomey, who joined Frankford Town Council members at the meeting, said the new force would not be a merger, in that both towns would retain their own departments. He later explained that such a move would allow each town to separately apply for grants that help maintain certain programs within the police department.
All six officers, however, would wear the same uniforms, patrol cars would be similarly marked, and ranks within the department would be consistent. Frankford would go from the 40 hours per week of coverage it had with its former police chief to a minimum of 20 hours per day under the proposed unification — 3.5 times the prior amount of coverage.
The proposed move would cost Frankford an estimated $121,406 in salaries, insurance and pensions for two officers, not including fuel for patrol cars, maintenance, uniforms and other associated costs of operation, according to figures provided by Toomey.
Frankford routinely receives $40,000 per year in federal, state and county grant funding for its police department, with all but the $25,000 it receives from Sussex County earmarked for specific programs.
The proposed unification with Dagsboro would come with a minimum three-year contract between the towns. A police commission would be formed, consisting of the police chief and the mayors of both towns, Toomey said.
Toomey said there had thus far this year been 219 complaints from Frankford residents requiring police response, through Hudson’s departure July 21, but that he didn’t have complaint figures for the period since then.
He said he would expect the number of complaints to increase if the towns unify their departments, not decrease, at least initially “because they’re not waiting an hour — they’re waiting five or 10 minutes. They’re going to be more apt to call an officer,” he said. “They’re going to eliminate those nuisances, where the residents currently just suck it up.”
Resident Liz Carpenter said, “I’m excited to hear about this collaboration,” adding that she is concerned about vandalism to businesses that occurred over the summer, as well as drug problems and a speeding issue on Frankford Avenue.
“I’ve heard there’s a large heroin problem, and I don’t want that to get worse,” Carpenter said. “It’s good to hear that there’s that much coverage potentially coming,” she said.
Fewer than 20 residents attended the meeting.
Town Councilman and Council Treasurer Marty Presley said “the elephant in the room” is the estimated $215 to $220 property tax increase per Frankford household that would be needed to fund the proposed combined police force.
“It is not an insignificant issue,” Presley said, adding that the Town’s ongoing income prospects are somewhat unknown, due largely to issues regarding the status of the Mountaire plant’s new well and how much revenue the Town will now be receiving from the plant’s water supply.
Presley, who will meet with a panel this week to go over the Town’s status as to its police department, said, “We’re on a clock” as far as the police department goes. “If we don’t have a solution by December, we’ll lose funding.”
Toomey said he understands the Town’s challenges.
“I know it’s a struggle. It really is,” he said. He added, however, that “what you’re looking at here is an opportunity that you’re not going to get very often.”
He said that while, technically, Dagsboro pays for four officers and Frankford would pay for two, he would place officers “where needed,” based on activity in the towns on a given day. He said he would expect officers patrolling Frankford to “hit every street” at least once a day, just as his current officers do in Dagsboro.
“Right now, you probably have jurisdictions that haven’t been seen by an officer in years,” he said, as town council members nodded in agreement.
Resident Robbie Murray expressed concerns over several financial aspects of the proposed merger.
“I could see Dagsboro asking (Frankford) for a third of the police chief’s salary,” since the chief would oversee all the officers in the unified departments. Murray said that, before the proposal moves forward, he “would like to see from the Town of Frankford more concrete numbers” on just how much the move would cost its residents.
A similar meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m. in the Dagsboro fire hall. See the Sept. 22 edition of the Coastal Point for coverage of that meeting.