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Deputy patrols keep lid on town

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News-Post

(12/9/2003) Around town, it appears that the heat is off for the winter, but it may be turned back on in the spring.

Woodsboro's two-month experiment with community deputies ended Nov. 30, and members of the town's board of commissioners said it was a hit with many residents and could become a permanent contracted service during warm-weather months. Burgess Donald Trimmer said finances may be the key to the program's longevity.

"As far as we're concerned," the burgess said, "it was a very successful adventure, those two months. Everything worked out as well as, if not better than, what we expected. ... I guess the only thing we have to worry about is next year, budget time."

The community deputy program allows municipalities to have officers work in a town for specific periods. The deputies patrol town streets during that time but may respond to emergency calls outside town.

The extra law enforcement presence wasn't contracted because hardened criminals were prowling Woodsboro's streets. Instead, the deputies were hired to combat nuisances such as speeders, vandals, trespassers and even insurgent skateboarders. The commissioners followed the sheriff''s office suggestion to discontinue the program in the winter because fewer people are out and about.

Commissioner Kenneth Morgan said he heard only positive comments about the additional deputy attention in the town. The deputies, he said, got skateboarders out of the streets and affected other behaviors.

"I know that they did slow down speeders on Main Street," he said, "and they did cut down on the loafers hanging out around the bank and in parking lots."

Mr. Trimmer said the town hasn't received reports from the sheriff's office yet, but residents "didn't mind us using their tax money for that purpose."

The way Woodsboro utilized the program, it wasn't that expensive. Deputies worked only three four-hour shifts each week. To operate the program from March to October, as Woodsboro might do, would cost the town roughly $15,000 a year.

While that might not seem like a lot of money, it represents more than 5 percent of the town's $284,000 budget for this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2004. It's at that time the value of and need for the program will be assessed against its cost.

"We'll probably do it another three to four months in the spring and see how we come out," Mr. Trimmer said. "Then it will be budget time again, and we'll need to reevaluate or look at our budget."

If the elected leaders decide the program should continue eight months annually, Mr. Trimmer said the town might have to raise its real property tax one to two cents to cover the expense. That rate currently is 42 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The tax increase may not be what the commissioners and citizens would want, but there are more costly alternatives. Mr. Trimmer said hiring a full-time deputy would cost $50,000 to $60,000, so the limited program saves money.

Mr. Morgan said he favors reinstating the program in the spring, but like Mr. Trimmer, he's not ready to say he would increase taxes to have extra deputy attention on a more permanent basis. He said the town perhaps could use someone to issue citations to scofflaw skateboarders and violators of non-traffic ordinances, such as those governing grass height. The deputies won't write such citations.

"I'd have to compare that benefit with the benefit of hiring someone to issue citations a couple of hours a week," Mr. Morgan said. "We may need both. I hate to make a decision until we've heard from the sheriff's department."

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