Frankford hears about DSP patrol option

Date Published: 
Oct. 20, 2017

The Town of Frankford held a special meeting this week to discuss options related to the Town’s police department.

The Town had been in talks with the Town of Dagsboro regarding the possibility of unifying the two towns’ police departments. However, on Oct. 4, the Frankford council announced they would not be pursuing unification.

At the Oct. 17 special meeting, Millville Town Manager Debbie Botchie spoke to the Frankford council regarding the Town of Millville’s use of Delaware State Police troopers to patrol the town, rather than paying for its own police department.

Botchie told the council that she was not there to sell the DSP’s services, nor was she in opposition to the Town having its own department — she was simply sharing why the arrangement works for the Town of Millville.

“It has worked very well for us,” she said, noting that Millville has six banks, two major food stores and 75 businesses, not to mention all the growth they’re anticipating with new development.

The Town of Millville had originally been contracting out police protection to DSP for coverage during holiday weekends, but grew to use them for weekly coverage, going from 10 hours to 15, to 16, and, now, to 20 hours per week.

Botchie said the Town helps pay for the coverage by putting away 5 percent of the transfer tax funds it receives quarterly. She added that the Town receives a police grant from Sussex County Council each year for $12,500.

For the 2018 fiscal year, Millville budgeted $97,137 for the 20 hours per week of coverage, plus all holiday weekends.

“We have a wonderful relationship with the state police,” said Botchie.

She said she was planning to call them soon to say speeding has been reported on specific roads, and the troopers will set up speed controls for the Town, she said.

Botchie said the Town is able to access a crime-mapping system and will receive alerts anytime there is a crime within a 2-mile radius of the town hall.

The Town also receives a portion of any fines given out while the DSP troopers are patrolling the town.

“Since May, we’ve received $257 in fines.”

Over the years, said Botchie, Millville town councils have looked at the cost of salaries, pension and equipment and found having a municipal police department is not warranted for the Town “at this time.”

“It works for us,” she said of the arrangement with the DSP.

Botchie said the Town doesn’t own the roads within its limits, but noted that the state police do patrol all of the developments in town.

Frankford Councilman Marty Presley asked if the Town could direct DSP as to how much time to spend on speed enforcement. Botchie said she is able to reach out to DSP Lt. John McColgan and ask for more coverage on certain roads, and he will disseminate the request to the troopers on patrol.

The troopers who patrol are all off their regular duty with the DSP at those times but are receiving overtime pay. She said they have been excellent to work with, with troopers being polite and professional, and even stopping in town hall to say hello.

“Delaware State Police, in my opinion, are top-notch.”

Frankford Councilman Greg Welch asked if the DSP needs to use Millville’s government facilities.

“They have everything in their own car that they may need. When they use our facility, they may use the restrooms, things like that,” replied Botchie. “What they will do now, in our new addition, is we have two secure interview rooms they’ll be able to utilize.”

In Frankford, if they were to contract out coverage with the DSP, they could work out of their car but also use the former department’s videophone.

Presley asked if the Town is charged for administrative work, or time spent taking a suspect to Georgetown.

“They don’t charge us for that,” she said. “That’s only happened once.”

Botchie said the Town does not have a signed contract with DSP for their services; however, they do have a lease agreement allowing the DSP to use their facility for $1 per year.

“It’s on availability of the troopers,” said Botchie of the arrangement. “That’s something you may want to do. We haven’t had a need to do that… We don’t have anything in writing.”

She added that the Town has never received a denial of requested coverage, but in theory it could happen. The time spent is tracked through billing, with daily timesheets included.

Presley asked what downsides the agreement has for the Town.

“I don’t have one,” she said. “I’ve got nothing… I can tell you my colleagues have always said to me, if you don’t have a police department, don’t start one. It’s very costly. Some of the municipalities are struggling with their budgets. That’s something we’re not ready to do yet.”

Council discusses options

Presley presented the council and those in attendance with a spreadsheet containing an estimation of what it would cost the Town to maintain its police department with a single police chief — $89,640 annually. The estimated cost to use the DSP for 12 hours per week would be $53,664, or $107,328 for 20 hours a week. The cost to unify with Dagsboro Police Department was estimated at $121,406.

“This budget for one chief puts us close to what the unification was going to cost, and it doesn’t give us near the coverage,” said Welch.

Resident Liz Carpenter said if the Town chose to use DSP coverage, they could sell the police equipment the Town owns to help pay some of the cost.

Property owner Kathy Murray asked if the council has made a pro/con list related to each option.

“One of the cons to me is the effective management of employees, especially with the police,” she said.

Murray said that, five to six months ago, the council was presented with a performance review and job descriptions for employees, which have, to her knowledge, not been finalized.

“From my perspective, why in god’s name is this council going to reestablish a police department when you can’t even effectively get what’s outstanding done? ... To me, it’s more than dollars. It’s where’s the leadership that’s going to oversee this process.”

Welch said he believes having a town department with a single employee would not be a realistic goal.

Presley said that, after residents opposed the option of unification with Dagsboro Police Department, the Town had two options: keep its police department and hire a new chief, or contract with the state police.

“To me, when you look at 20 hours a week, after administrative obligations, vacations, sick time, court time… It doesn’t make a lot of sense, in addition to what Kathy said — that no one on this council has the ability to manage a police officer on a daily basis.”

Carpenter said that if the Town can come up with the money to hire DSP troopers, she would rather use it to unify with Dagsboro’s Police Department.

“If you’re telling me we can’t afford to hire and join forces with Dagsboro and fund two full-time equivalent — but that’s the cost of state police — then we can afford anything. The numbers show me that, if everything I’ve heard in the past is true, we can afford nothing… That’s what you’re telling me.

“It’s funny to me that we’re seriously considering of hiring the state police for $100,000, but we turned down the deal with Dagsboro.”

Presley said the Town didn’t have enough people showing up to meetings to voice their support of a $200-per-year tax increase per property to pay for the unification.

“There are some people who that would be too much,” said Welch, noting it would’ve been an approximate increase of 65 cents per day.

Murray said the problem in Town is a lack of informed citizens.

“And it’s their choice. And it’s pretty daggone sad when you’ve got three residents here,” she said, noting she’s a property owner and not a resident.

Presley said that, when the Town was discussing police unification, he was on multiple television stations, was interviewed by newspapers, and the meetings were posted on the Town’s website and in mailers — “We got 12 people to show up… The vast majority of this town prefers not to get involved.”

Carpenter said the Town hasn’t raised taxes in more than a decade and needs to realize that it needs income in order to sustain itself.

“If we don’t raise taxes, how are we ever going to do anything? We can’t grow without income.”

Carpenter said the town has few businesses, compared to Millville.

“A couple of years ago, when I got involved, I said, ‘A point is going to come when we’re going to unincorporate and get absorbed by Dagsboro and Selbyville…”

She said Millville has a great deal of transfer tax monies due to the development that is occurring there.

“Nobody is interested in coming to Frankford,” she said. “Do you think Lennar is going to come build a development here when we can’t provide community safety? No! If we want the infrastructure to come and we want this town to grow, we’re going to have to get off our asses and spend the money. You have to spend money to make money…

“We’ve been having this conversation about lack of involvement for the last four years.”

Presley said the Town is at a crossroads, with 25 percent of homes in town used as rental properties.

“If the same rate of growth goes … within 10 years we’ll be over 50 percent rental houses. Nobody cares.”

Murray recommended that if the rental properties are growing, at least a quarter of the properties would have to pay for the tax increase — either through a raise in rent or absorb the cost themselves — as a part of doing business in the town.

Carpenter said she is concerned the council is going to “sit on their laurels” and allow nothing to happen until someone comes to make a decision to be involved.

“That’s what I feel is happening now. ‘We’re not going to do anything, we’re not going to raise taxes, we’re not going to do anything new, we’re not going to update anything because no one is involved…’ At some point, you have to say, regardless of whether or not they’re going to be involved, ‘We’re moving forward.’”

Presley said he would disagree, but that there are some things the council cannot do because the Town simply doesn’t have the funds.

At the meeting, the council clarified that a referendum would not need to be held in order to raise taxes. Welch again added that the council chose not to unify with Dagsboro’s police department because it would more than double everyone’s taxes.

“There was no real sense that we even needed it,” said Presley, regarding police coverage, adding that the council heard from 60 or 70 people who were opposed to unification.

The council plans to vote on the police item at its Monday, Nov. 6, meeting, at 7 p.m.