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Lou Elliott Jones
INGLIS — Citizens in this southern Levy County town voted Tuesday to scrap their police and fire services and hand the work to the county sheriff’s office.
Voters also gave the nod to many of the dissident candidates who have championed doing away with the police force for several years. All charter amendment measures on the ballot also passed.
Last year, a similar election to disband the five-person police force was unsuccessful.
However, this year, not only did the amendment to dissolve the police department succeed, some of the people previously involved in the movement to dissolve it also won town commission seats. Their issues last year with the police department stemmed from what they called aggressive police tactics, especially when it came to traffic enforcement and tracking people as they exit local bars.
Incumbent Mayor James Williams was defeated by Glenda Kirkland 60 percent to 40 percent.
For the two two-year commission seats, Sally Price and Ann Morin got 34 and 26 percent of the vote ,respectively, out of a field of five candidates, making them the winners to fill those seats. Incumbents Tom Brennan and Robert Webb got 18 and 17 percent of the vote, while Stephen Smalldridge finished with 5 percent.
“I think I speak for all the officers here, we feel let down,” Officer John Dowd of the Inglis Police Department said.
Dowd said as it stands, it appears all of them will be without work come October.
“I really think the wording of the amendment misled a lot of people because they thought we were just going to be absorbed by the sheriff’s office,” Dowd said.
Dowd, who doubles as spokesman for the department, said he wanted to reassure town residents his agency will continue to perform duties in a professional and dedicated manner until the town terminates their employment.
Besides voting for the amendment to hand police and fire operations to the county, voters passed the following amendments:
* Requiring deletion of the town’s mandatory garbage collection ordinance and removing the mandatory water ordinance.
* Forbidding the commission to remove or modify existing elected terms of office.
* Requiring a vacancy on the commission be filled by the second highest vote-getter in the previous election instead of the current system where vacancies are filled by a vote of the commission.
* Requiring a five-day work week for all municipal offices.
* Removal of existing assessments and voter approval of future assessments.
Levy County officials are taking a wait-and-see attitude about developments.
Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum said if the disbanding comes to fruition, a lot of work would have to go into his office taking over. On Feb. 12, McCallum responded to a request by Inglis town leaders to provide a proposed contract
and costs for protection.
“I told them it depends on what they want,” McCallum said. “If they want services that we provide they would be part of a zone which they are now.
“If they want the same type of services — around-the-clock services — that would require a contract,” McCallum said. “They would have to fund those services ….”
McCallum said the cost for 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage would require five full-time deputy positions be added to his office.
“The first year would be $396,420.50. That’s because there would be some startup costs,” he said.
“The second would go down some to $349,387, and the third would be $361,511. “What this does not include is staffing the office in Inglis,” McCallum said. “For that you would be adding about $43,000 to each of those years’ figures. That would cover staffing their building and paying the utilities and those sorts of things”
McCallum said he would not agree to anything less than a three-year contract.
He said the city’s police officers are not granted carte blanche employment with the county. They would have to apply and go through the hiring process as do others seeking to become county deputies. That would include an extensive criminal background check and drug testing.
“That’s because these would be additional, new positions because I take on all the liability as sheriff,” McCallum said. “There’s no guarantee I’d hire the current personnel. I have nothing against them at all. But we do background and see what fits best.”
If the department is disbanded without a contract being signed, McCallum said, “We’ll cover and answer calls there. What they don’t get is — they don’t get somebody in those limits around the clock. It will be part of a larger zone — like Bronson is and that has some 300 square miles in it. We’ll take calls and work calls as they come in.”
“They’re a municipality. They have a charter and under their charter they have a responsibility to provide police and fire (service). If they choose not to do that, that is their issue,” McCallum said.
David Knowles, Levy County director of public safety and county fire chief, had little comment on the election results, noting there is a legal challenge to the charter changes that could delay the changes beyond the Sept. 30 deadline. There is an injunction hearing scheduled on the matter March 21.
Knowles, who saw an earlier attempt by the Inglis Fire Department to merge into the county department fail because the county levies an annual $90-per-residence fire assessment in addition to property taxes, said the assessment issue would play into any absorption. The assessment is based on varying costs for square footage according to the property’s use for commercial, industrial, retail and warehouse facilities.
Knowles just completed a similar merger with the Yankeetown Fire Department where the town retains its building and the county manages the fire service and an assessment will be levied starting Oct. 1.
Inglis would have to take similar action, Knowles said. “In order for the county to do it, they would have to participate in the county fire assessment program.”
Contact Chronicle reporter A.B. Sidibe at 352-564-2925 or email@example.com.