P'Dale takes out loan to

Coun­cilmem­bers, chief ar­gue over debt, work­load

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Am­ber Pittman

Coun­cil mem­bers in Por­terdale agreed to take out a loan in or­der to re-hire a fur­loughed of­fi­cer Mon­day night — but not be­fore a heated con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the mayor, the chief of po­lice and the mayor pro tem, dur­ing which the chief was ac­cused of sen­sa­tion­al­iz­ing and chore­ograph­ing por­tions of the meet­ing.

Mayor Pro Tem Robert Fox­worth asked Chief of Po­lice Wayne Digby to

present some statis­tics to the coun­cil at Mon­day’s meet­ing to let the coun­cil know where the po­lice depart­ment stood af­ter the re­cent fur­lough of one of its of­fi­cers due to the city’s fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Fox­worth asked Digby if the ser­vices to the city were be­ing af­fected by the cut and if calls had picked up.

Ac­cord­ing to Digby, the depart­ment has spread it­self so thin they are un­able to keep up with the ever-in­creas­ing amount of calls in the city, es­pe­cially on Ivy Street.

“We’ve spread our forces so thin we just can’t do things the way we did. Ser­vice is lack­ing but that’s just the way it is and there is noth­ing we can do about it.”

Fox­worth asked what was be­ing done to quell the gath­er­ing of large crowds late into the night and Digby told him “ab­so­lutely noth­ing” was be­ing done be­cause there are no laws on the books ad­dress­ing loi­ter­ing and prowl­ing that would al­low of­fi­cers to place peo­ple un­der ar­rest.

Digby told the coun­cil and res­i­dents of the city in at­ten­dance of re­cent in­ci­dents where peo­ple had been robbed in the area, where grand­moth­ers had been threat­ened with sledge­ham­mers and where peo­ple had been con­gre­gat­ing and “rais­ing hell” into the wee hours of the morn­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics pro­duced by the chief, in the last 45 days, the south­east part of the county, which in­cludes Por­terdale, had re­ceived 726 calls for ser­vice. Of those calls, 618 were out of Por­terdale.

Mayor Bobby Hamby asked if that num­ber in­cluded traf­fic calls and Digby told him it was all calls.

“Peo­ple are tot­ing guns around here that don’t need to be tot­ing guns,” Digby said, speak­ing not only of the crim­i­nal el­e­ment but of fed-up cit­i­zens as well. “Some­body’s go­ing to get shot. Some­body’s fix­ing to get killed and we’ve got to nip it in the bud right now or we might as well give it to them.”

Hamby re­minded Digby that Por­terdale has an agree­ment with the city of Cov­ing­ton say­ing the city will send an of­fi­cer to as­sist when Por­terdale needs one.

City at­tor­ney Tim Cham­bers said he would work on pre­par­ing some­thing for the coun­cil to see at their up­com­ing work ses­sion which would make loi­ter­ing and prowl­ing an ar­restable of­fense.

Fox­worth asked Digby if adding one of­fi­cer to the force would help and Digby said he be­lieved it would, telling the coun­cil the fur­loughed of­fi­cer an­swered roughly four calls per shift.

“I know our bud­get is suf­fer­ing right now,” said Coun­cil­woman Linda Fin­ger. “But I would like for the coun­cil to give the chief per­mis­sion to get that of­fi­cer back.”

Fox­worth pro­posed a so­lu­tion to their fi­nan­cial woes that would al­low them to re­hire the of­fi­cer, a tax an­tic­i­pa­tion note (TAN) loan. Ac­cord­ing to Fox­worth, City Man­ager Tom Fox — who was not in at­ten­dance due to a back in­jury — had spo­ken with BB&T and found they could get a $100,000 loan at 3.75 in­ter­est rate that would carry the city out un­til the end of the year.

The loan would have to be paid back by Dec. 31 and since it is the as­sump­tion the city will re­ceive roughly $200,000 in taxes, they would make enough once that money was col­lected to pay the loan back.

“With the crime that’s go­ing on we’ve got to do some­thing,” Fox­worth said. “I would rather go into debt than face an of­fi­cer’s fam­ily be­cause he was out there on call and was shot or beat to death by th­ese thugs around our town. We have to pro­tect our cit­i­zens.”

Weigh­ing the facts

Coun­cil­woman Kay Piper spoke up, say­ing the city was in a fi­nan­cial cri­sis with a large short­fall. Hav­ing an­tic­i­pated roughly $150,000 in sewer taps, the city re­ceived noth­ing when the econ­omy be­gan a de­cline and no homes were built in the city.

“I also dis­cov­ered,” she said. “That without the city know­ing this, des­ig­nated funds in the recre­ation fund had been taken out and put in the gen­eral fund and spent. So the city al­ready owes the des­ig­nated funds that should not have been used and we have to pay that back as soon as pos­si­ble and that’s $126,000 we’re al­ready in debt.”

Ac­cord­ing to Piper the city will be de­pend­ing on the tax rev­enues to pay off their ex­penses and if they use them for other pur­poses they are “just dig­ging the hole even deeper.”

“All I can tell you is the city’s about broke,” said Piper. “And we’re al­ready start­ing off next year ow­ing plus pos­si­bly not hav­ing enough in the bud­get to meet the ex­penses of next year.

“And to go in debt and use money we’re go­ing to need to sur­vive for this… I just feel like it would be wrong to go into debt like this.”

Hamby added Fox had re­port­edly told him that day that a TAN loan would work in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, but it would force the coun­cil to raise taxes next year by one mil in or­der to have enough tax rev­enue to re­pay the loan.

“The pub­lic works depart­ment had al­ready stepped up and done a tremendous amount of cuts,” Hamby said. “We had asked that each depart­ment do a 20 per­cent cut and pub­lic works cut 37 per­cent. I don’t want to sound neg­a­tive but the po­lice depart­ment cut­ting one per­son is ba­si­cally only cut­ting 12 per­cent… My rec­om­men­da­tion, along with that of the city man­ager, is that we do not do this loan.”

At that, Fox­worth be­came vis­i­bly ag­i­tated, say­ing Fox had spo­ken with him and told him “it would be great to do this loan.” Adding that if the econ­omy turned around they would not need to raise taxes next year.

“That’s true,” Hamby said. “But that’s a big if.”

“I don’t mean to be ugly chief,” Hamby said, ad­dress­ing Digby. “But I think you have sen­sa­tion­al­ized some of those statis­tics you passed out,” he said, his voice rais­ing. “I’d also like to say we have or­di­nances on that book that should ad­dress most of th­ese prob­lems and if we don’t then what you should do is go through the city man­ager. But bring­ing it up in a coun­cil meet­ing is not a pro­fes­sional way to do it.”

“I was asked a ques­tion and I was an­swer­ing that ques­tion,” Digby replied, equally heated.

“I know you were,” Hamby said. “I also know that some of this is chore­ographed for tonight’s show and I am dis­ap­pointed in the way it was done.

“The re­al­ity is the city is in fi­nan­cial trou­ble and we can’t af­ford to go out and bor­row money so we can re­hire your of­fi­cer and give you the take home cars when the rest of the city is suf­fer­ing. The po­lice depart­ment needs to suck it up and go out and do the best job they can with what they have.”

Digby fired back say­ing, “I didn’t ask for the cars back and I didn’t ask for the of­fi­cer back. I gave you stats. I was asked for in­for­ma­tion and I’ve got it. I can also show you where we do 56 per­cent more work than the city of Cov­ing­ton too. And that’s a fact.”

Tem­pers flare

Fox­worth jumped in adding “I got the lit­tle point where you said this was chore­ographed,” he said to Hamby. “And none of this was chore­ographed.”

“I know what’s been go­ing on,” Hamby said. “And that’s a dif­fer­ent story. What I’m say­ing is there’s pro­ce­dures to bring this thing up and it shouldn’t be done like this. This is just a show. We can­not af­ford to do this loan.”

Fox­worth shot back at Hamby, telling him a pub­lic meet­ing was not the time or place to chas­tise the chief of po­lice, say­ing the mayor should have waited to voice his com­plaints. He then ques­tioned where the city man­ager had been dur­ing the week.

“He’s not here. So who is in charge? Who is run­ning this town? Tom [Fox] is from his house on the phone and half the time you can’t get in touch with him,” Fox­worth said.

Fin­ger spoke up and told Digby she ap­pre­ci­ated the in­for­ma­tion be­ing brought to the coun­cil so they had what they needed to make in­tel­li­gent de­ci­sions.

“I will be the first one to say I do un­der­stand that even if you went through the chan­nels the mayor is telling you — to call Tom [Fox] and go through Tom — nine times out of 10 it’s lost. Tom doesn’t fol­low though on a lot of things that peo­ple ask him to do. That can be taken any way that any­one wants to take it. But Tom doesn’t wear a hat in the po­lice depart­ment any­more, you do.”

Fox­worth in­ter­rupted, ad­dress­ing Hamby again, “for you to sit here and chas­tise him — he’s pro­tect­ing this town — he and his of­fi­cers are pro­tect­ing this town.”

“I know they are,” said Hamby. “All our city work­ers,” he be­gan, but was cut off by Fin­ger who said “I think the garbage ser­vice do a great job but they aren’t pro­tect­ing us.”

“If they weren’t pick­ing up the garbage you’d no­tice,” re­marked Hamby.

Coun­cil­woman Ar­line Chap­man spoke up, in­form­ing every­one that Fox was out with a her­ni­ated disk and had been work­ing from home. She added she thought it im­proper to speak about mem­bers of the coun­cil when they were not there to de­fend them­selves.

“I talked to him to­day,” said Fox­worth. “And he called me Bobby [Hamby]. I asked him if he knew who he was talk­ing to and he said ‘I’m sorry Robert, I’m on drugs.”

Fox­worth then made a mo­tion which was im­me­di­ately sec­onded by Fin­ger to al­low Digby to re­hire his fur­loughed of­fi­cer, say­ing he more than pays for him­self with his ac­tiv­i­ties.

“That’s not to­tally true,” Hamby said. “Th­ese aren’t funds that stay in our cof­fers. If we hire him back, he is not go­ing to pay for his salary it’s just go­ing to put the city in deeper fi­nan­cial trou­bles.”

Fox­worth replied that the city needed to look at get­ting the TAN loan in or­der to carry the city through.

“This is re­ally a moral dilemma for me,” said Chap­man. “I re­spect what the mayor and Kay [Piper] have said but I also have great faith in our po­lice chief and I’m go­ing to vote yes be­cause I just feel that’s what I have to do.”

Piper said that she agreed there was a need for an­other of­fi­cer but could not vote in fa­vor of hir­ing an­other of­fi­cer.

“When I bal­ance my check­book at the end of the month I can­not spend money that I don’t have hop­ing that some­thing’s go­ing to come in to re­place it.”

In a 3-1 vote, the coun­cil agreed to re­hire the of­fi­cer and use money from a TAN loan to pay for his salary.

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