Bonifay residents turned out en masse Thursday, August 17, to attend a workshop for the Bonifay City Council where the hot topic was the possibility of closing the recently reestablished Bonifay Police Department.
At the regular session meeting of the council on August 14, Councilman Larry Cook approached the idea of asking the council to look into having the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office take over law enforcement operations within the city limits.
Cook believed the measure would be more cost efficient for the City, should Sheriff
John Tate agree to take it on once again.
After meeting with Sheriff Tate, Mayor Dr. Emily McCann brought numbers back to the council as requested. Tate submitted an official proposal to do the job for $635,000 annually with another $65,000 for cemetery maintenance and an inmate work crew for mowing, as well as a cost increase each year of three percent, if needed. The proposed total amounts to $700,000 annually. Currently, HCSO charges the City $71,000 annually for dispatching services conducted by the county. That cost breaks down to $49,000 and $22,000 for the police department and fire department. Sheriff Tate said if he took over the law enforcement in the City, he would do away with the charge for the communications services, eliminating that $71,000 cost.
The police department budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year was set at $658,887.
The proposed budget submitted by the new Bonifay Police Chief Jimmy Macon for the upcoming 2023-2024 fiscal year totals $1.1 million, which would include having 10 officers on staff. There are currently just six full-time officers on staff and no part-time officers.
Chief Macon addressed the council about what he calls “a personal vendetta.”
“I absorbed the budget that was already set when I took this job,” said Macon. “We had three officers leave, and I know that two of them were paid out for vacation and things, but I have done my best with what we have. I know that this is a personal vendetta against me, and I know it, but I’m just doing my job. We have had to purchase equipment that was needed, causing us to use 85 percent of this year’s budget. If we turn this over to the sheriff’s office, it is a waste of the taxpayers dollars. I did ask the City for 10 officers because that is what this City needs, but I told you all I will work within the budget we have now just to maintain my officers now. I will stay within the current budget and make it work for another year and we readdress it after that time frame, thank you.”
Chief Macon did not expound on his statement about the personal vendetta.
Residents addressed their concerns about the closing of the police department during the workshop with the consensus of those in attendance seeming to be a preference to keep the department in place.
“I believe it is best to keep a police department for safety,” said James Russell. “I just don’t see how taking away our police is good for the city or its citizens. I think there are a million other ways to save money than taking away our police department.”
“The job of a city is to provide services with the top two being police and fire,” said Richard Willsey. “You can do away with most anything else except for those two. I thought we had a mostly conservative council, but here we are once again talking about defunding the police department. Do we really want Bonifay to be known as the only city in the state of Florida to defund the police? I’d say it is time to get out of your government hat and put on your business hat and manage your budget. Defunding your police is not the answer.”
Mayor McCann stated should the council decide to disband the police department, it would not be the same as defunding the police department.
“I would like to explain that should we decide to use the sheriff’s office, it would be utilizing law enforcement that serves every other citizen in the county,” said McCann. “It would not be defunding the police department.”
A decision is expected to be made within the next few weeks, prior to the final budget hearing at the end of September.