To the Editor:
In response to Mr. Ken Snider’s letter published in your newspaper, as the Mayor of the City of Benld, I am providing the following information for clarity.
Previously to the Special Meeting of April 17, 2020, a public meeting was held in July of 2018 to discuss a proposal from the City of Gillespie to provide police protection in the City of Benld. The meeting was well attended by citizens and interested persons.
In the following month of August of 2018 two police committee meetings were held where it was first discussed that inquires for possible police protection from other surrounding communities such as Mt. Olive and Staunton, did not appear to be possible. At the August 13, 2018 meeting of the police committee an informal group of citizens, who were attempting to work on the problem of the costs and manpower shortage pertaining to the Police Department of Benld suggested the City Council defer any decision for a period of one year, to allow the citizen’s group to provide assistance in resolving the issues of costs and lack of personnel available for the Police Department. Although the help of the citizen’s group was appreciated, no resolution of the lack of qualified personnel was able to be achieved. The most recent action by the City Council in April, was not a matter of cost, rather the inability to obtain qualified police officers who are willing to work on a long-term basis in the City of Benld.
In response to the incorrect information provided by Mr. Snider in his letter to the Editor the following are the correct facts:
- I had a meeting with Ken Snider in early 2020 to discuss various issues including a proposal from the City of Gillespie to provide police protection for the City of Benld.
- I further advised Mr. Snider, a Special Meeting of the City Council would be scheduled to discuss and vote on any proposal.
- Based upon the current restrictions for public gatherings and the need for proper social distancing, the Special Meeting held on April 17, 2020, was made available through both the Zoom format and telephone conference call. I also suggested to Mr. Snider that anyone interested in the issue could provide their views to their Alderman.
- Mr. Snider apparently received proper notice of the Special Meeting, as he was present by way of Zoom attendance and made statements duly considered by the Alderman.
After due discussion at the Special Meeting held for which notice was properly posted and carried in numerous formats through social media, the Council approved an Ordinance that set forth an agreement with the City of Gillespie as follows:
- Twenty-four-hour police coverage, seven days a week would be provided by the Gillespie Police Force in the City of Benld commencing May 1, 2020.
- The cost for the police protection from the City of Gillespie would provide savings from the average expenses incurred by the Police Department during the last five years.
- The City of Gillespie is obligated to provide a police vehicle in the City of Benld for each of the three shifts during the day and to take over the duties of the Police Department for the City of Benld commencing May 1, 2020.
- A recent addendum to that agreement is being enacted by both municipalities to provide each municipality will equally share in the income from fines received for any traffic or criminal charges filed as well as any ordinance citations issued by the Gillespie Police Department while patrolling within the City of Benld.
- The five-year agreement provides that after the second year there can be an increase in the cost of the $216,000.00 annual fee. However, the increase must be related to the documented increase of expenses for the operation of the Gillespie Police Department and will be shared by the municipalities based upon their population percentage.
- The ordinance contains a “Buyout” provision that any time after the third year, either municipality could decide that the arrangement was not working in the best interest of their community and terminate the arrangement.
As to Mr. Snider’s suggestions that the City of Benld will be paying over $1.08 million dollars during the next five years. Mr. Snider is correct as the actual contract the cost for the five years, without any calculations of increased expenses would in fact be $1,080,000.00. However, that cost must be compared to the higher five-year cost for the operation of the Police Department in Benld of $1,352,653.00, without any calculation of inflation during the next five years. It is important to note, however, the “cost factor” was not the most significant issue in the recent action by the City Council. Rather the City Council faced the problem that attempts to obtain full-time officers on a long-term basis for the City of Benld was highly unsuccessful and the City was down to two full-time and three part-time officers required to work all shifts. The ability to have twenty-four-hour coverage, seven days per week will not be able to be maintained.
The action taken by the City Council was out of necessity. I believe each Alderman seriously considered the issue and took action that each Alderman deemed to be in the best interest of the City of Benld. I am proud of the sincere efforts made by the City Council to resolve this difficult problem. I personally believe the right decision was made.
City of Benld