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Harlem officials nix talks on police department shut-down

Posted: January 14, 2015 - 1:21am
Harlem resident Norm Shelby talks to the Harlem City Council during a special called meeting Friday.   Photo by Valerie Rowell
Photo by Valerie Rowell
Harlem resident Norm Shelby talks to the Harlem City Council during a special called meeting Friday.

Harlem officials nixed the idea of contracting police protection to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office at a meeting Friday.

They were considering the contract in an effort to avoid raising property taxes to make up for an expected $200,000 drop in revenue in 2017.

“We looked at the numbers and we decided it wasn’t the right thing to do,” Mayor Bobby Culpepper said at the special called meeting. “The numbers did not work.”

City Manager Jason Rizner gave a presentation on the city’s budget issues focusing on the coming decline in the city’s portion of county Local Option Sales Tax funds, which will drop from 3.5 percent to 2.5 percent at the end of 2017.

“There certainly aren’t any easy fixes out there,” said Rizner, who said city leaders are considering other ways to cut the budget and save money before opting for a property tax increase.

Those funds make up about 10 percent of Harlem’s $2.4 million budget – more than $200,000 – and the drop will take away about a third of the city’s LOST funding in the 2017 budget.

The meeting was standing room only with residents concerned about closing the Harlem-run department.

“We live in this town for several reasons,” county school board Vice Chairwoman and Harlem resident Roxanne Whitaker said. “But this is the safest place you can live in Columbia County and in the CSRA largely due to the police department.”

Council members voted unanimously to instruct Rizner to begin the search for a new police chief.

Norm Shelby said he is glad to see shutting down the department is no longer an option.

“Because we have the police department going back and forth in front of my house every 15 minutes,” Shelby said at the meeting. “That means a lot to a crook coming into this town.

Whitaker said keeping the department is going to help keep crime low and draw new residents moving into the area because of growth at Fort Gordon.

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