With budget shortfalls calling for drastic measures, the Monticello Police Department was supposed to be out of business today.
Instead, Monticello City Council is scheduled to meet in a called session tonight to vote on whether to rescind their vote to disband the department.
In February, council members voted to reduce the size of the department from 15 to five positions by March 1 and phase it out four months later.
City manager Bob Schwartz said after council received a $300,000 proposal from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office to patrol the city, members decided they could spend about that much on a reduced staff for the police department.
The budget passed on Tuesday includes $311,350 for a police chief, four officers and one office worker.
Now council will convene to formally reverse its February vote to disband, according to tonight’s agenda.
Capt. Bobby Norris, who has nearly 30 years on the force, was named acting police chief during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’m going to be as diligent as I can be,” Norris said of his new responsibility.
He admits it will be a challenge to operate with such a small staff.
“You can’t do with four men what you can do with 12,” Norris said. “I don’t know what the expectations will be.”
Most of the department, including former Police Chief Bud Smith, left earlier this year. Two former officers remained on staff, and Norris will be hiring two more under the current budget. The acting chief plans to create a pool of former officers to work part-time, if they are willing. Trust has to be re-established with the city after council members changed their minds, he said.
Schwartz said help will still be needed from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office.
“We will not be completely self-sufficient 24/7 with six people,” Schwartz said.
The city has been battling declining utility revenues and a loss of natural gas income from Georgia Pacific that cut back on usage when the economy soured.
Monticello went from a $748,000 deficit in a $9 million budget in 2009 to nearly breaking even in the 2010 budget of $8.3 million and a $28,000 surplus targeted for the $8.1 million fiscal 2011 budget, Schwartz said.
“We’re trying to be fiscally conservative,” he said.
Sheriff Charles Roper could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.