Emotions run high over police cuts
By LPR Staff
The Lockhart City Council continues to suffer slings and arrows from a community concerned about their safety, growth and development.
In an unusually well-attended meeting on Tuesday evening, the council heard comments from four citizens concerned with recent cuts to the Lockhart Police Department staff, while several o
thers sat holding bright pink signs reading “We Support Our Police Department.”
Tempers have flared and accusations run wild in the days since City Manager Clovia English announced that the most effective and immediate way to balance the city”s budget would be to reduce the police force by four officers.
English, along with Mayor Jimmy Bertram and the council, continued to be in the crosshairs on Tuesday, as citizens expressed their disagreement with the decision.
“How many other towns do inspections before new renters can turn on utilities,” said Frances Gage, who said she makes a portion of her living through rental properties. Gage said her inquiries to the city indicated that the three city inspectors do about 45 inspections per month, and perhaps the inspection department should be reduced, rather than the police force.
A Dale resident, Rhonda Tutt, reminded the council that decisions they make, particularly regarding the security of the community, affect not only the citizens of Lockhart, but also the county residents who work and do business in Lockhart, and the children who attend Lockhart schools.
“How often do we get weapons brought to school?” Tutt asked. “Not enough to make enough noise to be put in the paper… The real reason we do not hear or see anything in our local paper is because of our… policemen.”
She added that no amount of money could replace the service the police provide, and no price could be put on their contribution.
“This type of sacrifice is measured beyond infinity, and only the few and the proud make it through this training.”
Another citizen called for English”s immediate dismissal after hearing that she had instructed Police Chief Frank Coggins not to speak to the media, and asked for the resignation of any councilmember who had a part in the order.
Although the council assured the people that they had been heard, one member suggested that the presence of the public was, in a manner of speaking, too little too late.
“We went through [several] budget workshops with an average attendance of about three,” said councilmember Dick Weiland, who voted against reducing the police force. “All of this shows a lack of concern on the part of the citizens as to their participation in the process.”
Weiland went on to encourage citizens to be more active in the future.
Against the force reduction from the start, councilmember Lew White continued to urge the city manager and council to look for other ways to reduce the budget.
“I hope that there”s time to find ways to change the direction of these reductions,” he said. “Let”s keep working at it. We”ve got some people out here that are concerned about police service and I think they have a right to be concerned.”
White instructed staff to review personnel in each department and report back to council in an effort to alleviate any surprise reductions in the next budget year.
“I don”t want to see this much reduction in any department with the kind of justification that we”re seeing,” he said.
In other council business:
Representatives from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) made a presentation explaining how their electrical service is produced and at what cost, as the council deliberated whether to renew the wholesale purchase agreement for the city”s electricity.
According to the presentation, LCRA charges significantly less for production of electricity than other statewide producers – about 3.19 cents per kilowatt hour – and that the difference in Lockhart”s charges was based on “wire fees,” or the cost to distribute the power to the customer.
Because a portion of LCRA”s electricity is produced with coal, rather than natural gas, they estimated that Lockhart”s customers would not feel the same affect of the oil crunch that some other customers face. However, fuel costs still make up the lion”s share of utility costs.
Due in part to the limited number of wholesale electricity providers, the council opted to renew the city”s contract with LCRA for another 35 years. The original contract was penned in the early 70s.
In brief council news:
The council agreed to add Larry Stanley, Jr. as a reserve police officer. Stanley, an experienced law enforcement officer, was set to start work with the city on Oct. 1, but budget cuts changed his employment status. As a reserve officer, Stanley will volunteer his time with the city.
White asked for the council”s blessing in pursuing a citizens” committee to establish a “skate park.” The request was made on the heels of comments by Dave Studer, who expressed concern that skateboard riders are using the ramp at City Hall to skateboard, and the city could be open to liability should one of them be injured. Bertram said the idea of a skate park had come up before, but a lack of funds halted the project before it got off the ground.
The council will meet again on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Room at Lockhart City Hall.