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Wednesday, 23 May 2012 20:08

Jackson not eager to pony up new deputies in wake of alcohol vote

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A request by Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe for eight additional deputies now that the sale of alcoholic beverages has been approve countywide isn’t gaining much traction among the men who hold the purse strings.

“I’m going to have to be shown a reason why he needs eight more people,” County Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam said. “I don’t understand his reasoning.”

The other four commissioners, while not necessarily flatly disallowing the request, expressed similar sentiments about the proof being in the pudding.

Jackson County voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages during the May 8 primary. Before, the county was dry, with alcohol sold only in the towns of Sylva and Dillsboro.

In a letter to commissioners, Ashe said that countywide alcohol sales would “greatly increase the numbers of calls that my deputies respond to. With only five deputies per shift now they are already spread thin with the number of calls that we respond to.”

Ashe noted that without additional deputies “it will be extremely difficult to provide the best safety possible to our citizens of Jackson County.”

Eight additional deputies, he said, would allow him to add two deputies per shift. The sheriff said that he could then put two officers rather than only one, as is the case now, in the Cashiers, Glenville and Sapphire area.

“This is a large area for only one deputy to cover,” Ashe said. “If an extreme situation occurs and requires backup, the amount of time for another officer to respond could be detrimental to the safety of the officer as well as others involved.”

Ashe did not return a phone message requesting comment.

Commissioner Mark Jones, who represents the southern portion of Jackson County, agreed with Ashe that there is likely to be more need for deputies over time. Jones said he believes there will be development pressures because of the countywide sale of alcohol in three communities of Jackson County: Cashiers, Cullowhee and the U.S. 441 Gateway area leading to Cherokee.

“At some point, there’s going to have to be an increase of law enforcement,” Jones said.

Commissioner Joe Cowan agreed that the time might come when Ashe needs additional deputies, but he emphasized that he’s reluctant to press forward with staff additions until the need is obvious and apparent.

“We need to find out what kind of impact, if any, it will have on his deputies,” Cowan said. “But I’ll certainly keep an open mind — because if you need ‘em, you need ‘em.”

It’s going to take quite some convincing, however, to get commissioners Doug Cody and Charles Elders to agree to spring for eight additional deputies in these fiscally tough times.

“I think Sheriff Ashe has staked out his position on it, but we haven’t staked out our position yet,” Cody said. “Eight deputies is a little farfetched in my opinion.”

Elders said that he wants to watch and see how the sale of alcoholic beverages plays out, in terms of whether crime actually increases or not and whether the burden on the sheriff’s department also increases accordingly.

“At the present time, the answer is ‘no,’” Elders said about the eight-deputy request by the sheriff. “But if it is really proven, that he needs them as this progresses, then OK.”

Chairman Debnam said he doesn’t believe the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages will change much in Jackson County when it comes to crime and law enforcement.

“I think people drink anyway,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any issues that haven’t already been there. If anything, there will probably be less people actually driving and drinking.”

State law mandates that the commissioners must set aside at least five percent of the gross receipts from the sale of alcohol at an ABC store for law enforcement. It does allow the county the option of contracting with the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency instead of handling those duties locally.

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