(Como, MS) The Como board of aldermen discussed the cutting of their police force Friday, as citizens voiced their suggestions and concerns.
The small Mississippi town has been plagued with debt for a while. With mounting bills and little revenue, leaders feel they have to cut back on their biggest expense: police.
They had originally planned to vote on the issue Friday at a special call meeting, but because some aldermen were not served paper notification of the meeting by 2:00p.m., state code does not allow any motions to take place.
Still, a packed room of citizens showed up to talk about what they could do to avoid losing their police protection.
“At night, they'll shine their light and you'll know they're out there. And that just gives you a little sense of security that it's there,” said Tracy Whitehurst.
He was particularly concerned over the state code that requires a police chief or town marshal in order for businesses to continue serving alcohol. Liquor sales are a major part of Como’s economy, since they sit next to a dry county.
“The people that do drink, that want to have a drink with their meal, they come to Como,” Whitehurst said.
During the meeting, aldermen mentioned debts to the IRS, to Entergy for three months of light bills, to Mitchell Technical, to county trash collection, to dispatch service, in addition to defaulted bonds from years ago.
The mayor, Everette Hill, said $500,000 would over those debts.
Meanwhile, the clerk cited $96,000 in tourism tax revenue from their restaurants on Main Street that are earmarked for tourism purposes only.
Officials said that money couldn’t be touched, but one citizen proposed using that money to hire security on Main Street during peak tourism hours, as a way of perhaps converting one of the police officer roles.
Others suggested making officers work part-time, or keeping only the police chief.
Some officers have already volunteered to take pay cuts and forego benefits.
“I had mixed emotions about it. Of course I'm concerned for the citizens in the town of Como, first and foremost, and of my officers as well,” said Police Chief Fred Boskey.
The assistant police chief, Harold Lewis, said he’s “ready to get it over with. Just to see whether we're going to have a job, whether we're going to keep the law enforcement here for the town or move on.”
While both men are worried, they are also confident the town will pull together to find some kind of solution to avoid shutting down or losing their charter.
Mayor Hill said, “I hope we can come together, and work out something with the sheriff's department that we could keep the force.”
The Panola County sheriff was present for the meeting, telling citizens that his existing deputies could spread out to cover the Como area. He cited drug problems that his department could tackle, but that he would not have extra money in his budget to hire more deputies.
When asked what the answer is, Mayor Hill said ‘prayer.’
“Pray to God first, when you get up every day. And let's see if we can come together and move forward with this town,” Hill said.