Millville council reluctant on price for OV policing

On Tuesday, Sept. 28, the Millville Town Council met to discuss the proposal it has received from the Town of Ocean View on that town providing Millville with policing and 911 services.

Mayor Don Minyon opened the meeting by correcting erroneous reports of the costs involved, reading a letter from Ocean View Mayor Gordon Wood, which stated, “The Wave headline on Page 6 got it wrong. The general hourly cost is less than $100. The 911 cost equivalent for Ocean View is the cost quoted [$119]. … Mutual trust and transparency can make this work,” Wood added.

Minyon said that Wood had told Millville officials that patrolling would cost the town $100 per hour. As it stands, Millville currently pays $78 per hour for part-time state policing. However, Minyon noted the DSP’s slower response time and that they do not enforce local ordinances.

Council members complimented Ocean View officials for their “exemplary” work in putting together the cost analysis.

“It’s a very lengthy statistical analysis of every cost involved in putting a policeperson on the street,” said Minyon. “It starts with the town manager costs and goes all the way down to the officer on the street, the equipment, the training, the pensions and all the other costs involved. That’s where they come up with the $119 per hour.”

Minyon said he and the council had originally discussed contracting with Ocean View for 48 hours of patrolling per week, plus 911 responses. He and Town Manager Debbie Botchie estimated that there are just 50 calls to 911 per year for the town, with each call requiring four to five police hours. That comes out to about $535.50 per call and close to $27,000 per year.

The decision on whether to pursue policing by Ocean View officers may hinge on the numbers.

“Can we afford this?” asked Minyon. “The transfer tax is not going to be there all the time. We have, right now, about a $400,000 budget.”

“It’s an expense,” responded Councilman Mike Jeffers. “Would there be a way to do a stepping-stone? Could we go on 911 services initially, evaluate, look at our revenue situation, see how that works out and then go to some type of patrolling arrangement that includes that? Obviously, if we had $1.2 million, we could do this all ourselves.”

“I do not know how we could support this figure,” said Councilman Richard Thomas, who serves as the town’s treasurer. “What happens if we have to sign a contract with them on a five-year basis?”

Minyon said the town would have to raise taxes in that case.

Councilman Gerald Hocker Jr. said that there were a lot of “unknown variables” and that he believes it would be a “budget nightmare.”

“I think certainly, in the future, Millville can sustain its own police department, and even with a five-year commitment it’s going to be that much more detrimental to the Ocean View police force. I don’t think I’m a fan of that at the moment.”

Councilman Jon Subity said he’d be interested in more information from Ocean View and looking into the option of them providing 911 services only.

“I’d be interested in seeing what kind of options they’d be willing to negotiate with us,” said Subity. “I think it’s obvious that we don’t have the money to pay for 48 hours of service year-round. We certainly can’t get into a five-year contract at that rate.”

Subity also said he couldn’t see the town justifying the extra $40 to $50 to have Ocean View police patrolling the town, as opposed to what the town currently pays for state police services.

Thomas also voiced his concerns that entering a contract with Ocean View could damage the goodwill the two towns currently have with one another.

Hocker noted to council that 911 calls would primarily deal with domestic disputes, shoplifting, alarm calls and traffic accidents within the town.

“I definitely know that, with traffic accidents and shoplifting, it can rack up a lot of time. It’s going to be looking to cost the town $300 or $400 because they had to go pick up the shoplifter. I think that’s going to be eaten up real quick,” he said.

Botchie spoke to the council of her serious concerns regarding the cost to the town.

“I want to say to this council that I have reviewed everything. I’ve been through this for months now. I want to know what our residents want. We talk about coverage. The 911 calls scare me to death,” she said. “We cannot sustain this kind of money with our budget. Transfer tax is not coming in. We have earmarked money for a police department, but getting into a five-year contract at these prices, we cannot afford it, we just can’t.”

As it stands, town residents currently pay just $193 per year in taxes. Thomas noted that that rate would have to increase by three to five times the current rate to accommodate the policing proposal.

“How much do we have to raise taxes, and do we really want to? It terrifies me with cost and commitment,” he said.

Botchie noted that, being in town hall every day, she does not receive calls from residents saying they want public safety services.

Minyon suggested that town officials would speak to Ocean View officials again and set up an information sheet and survey for the Millville council to take door-to-door to their residents.

“If the majority of them say, ‘Fine, we’ll take a tax increase,’ then that will be something to be considered,” he said.

Millville resident and former councilwoman Joan Bennett spoke in favor of policing for the town but was also focusing beyond the impact on the town’s residents.

“We are not just asking for protection for our 300 residents but are asking for protection and must consider protection for a vibrant business district that continues to grow, where visitors and summer residents conduct business each and every day of the year,” she said.

Bennett also called into question the council’s choice of using restricted-purpose transfer tax revenue to expand town hall instead of on public safety.

“In terms of spending transfer revenue – there used to be more in that account, folks, until this council decided to put one-third of a million dollars into an addition on this building, which is also using that restricted revenue,” Bennett noted.

“Now,” she said, “one-third of a million dollars, in terms of the figures you were talking about tonight, that Ocean View would require, is a drop in the bucket. But nonetheless, it might have been just that drop in the bucket that might have provided an easier cushion – at least for this time-being – to provide the residents and businesses of Millville with some kind of public safety, even if it is on a 911 basis. I continue to ask you to provide police services.”

Minyon objected to the criticism.

“I think you have done a disservice to this council,” he told Bennett. “This council’s No. 1 priority is the safety to the people of the town. And I’m going to paraphrase what you said when you were on this council. You said, ‘Let’s use all the transfer tax, and when it runs out it runs out,’ and that kind of economics we’re not going to do. We have been talking about it. We have been thinking about it.”

Minyon noted that Millville would continue to look into joint policing with Ocean View.

Council members on Sept. 28 also discussed the possibility of amending ordinance 07-12, to require persons sitting on the Planning and Zoning Commission to be residents of the town. Currently, the ordinance allows both residents and property owners to serve.

Hocker led the discussion, explaining he had been approached by residents questioning why the town allows non-voting residents to serve on the commission.

“I have always supported everyone on there and will continue to do so, but I would like to see the Town of Millville get in line with the other towns, the county,” Hocker said, “and require that you to be a voting resident.”

Jeffers agreed with Hocker’s concern; however, he noted that with a small number of residents within the town, it could be difficult to fill those seats.

“What concerns me is we have a relatively small pool of people to draw from. Given the way it’s worded now, if you have someone who’s interested, capable, ready to jump in and lend a hand, I have a hard time seeing how we want to turn such folks away. I wonder how we might fill that void,” he said.

Thomas agreed with Hocker, saying he found that the Planning and Zoning Commission holds more responsibility in the town than the council does, as they review planning and zoning applications and pass on their recommendations to council.

He said, “90 percent of the legwork is done by Planning and Zoning. I think they should be an individual of the town. It’s a great responsibility.”

Minyon said he had had trouble finding people willing to sit on the committee and has no complaints about the work they are doing.

Subity said he could see both sides of the coin, where the town would not want to turn away volunteers but that he could also see where there would be a problem. He did not have a firm opinion either way, he said, adding that he would need more time to consider.

Resident Eileen Hargrove is among those criticizing current town policy on the issue. She had written to the council, stating she didn’t understand why non-residents may serve on a committee that helps with “major decisions and policymaking in the town.”

“My feelings are that the requirements need to be the same for committee members as they are for council members. One must be a full-time resident of Millville,” she wrote.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bob Linett spoke in response, emphasing, “Planning and Zoning is advisory. So, unlike someone who is voting, it doesn’t set policy.”

Council members agreed to continue to think about and discuss the issue, with no set plans to vote.

Council will meet next on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. to discuss design standards.