STOCKBRIDGE — City Council members voted Monday to issue $3 million in bonds to fund the startup of a police department for the city.
Council members voted 3-1-1 on the measure, which was proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Elton Alexander as an amendment to the agenda. Referring to pro-police department citizen input at a December town hall meeting, Alexander said the time had come to move forward with forming a police department.
“The citizens have told us what they want to do; it’s up to us to do it,” he said.
Alexander said Henry County is seeing population growth of about 8,000 residents per year, and he expects sufficient revenue growth to support the department.
Councilman John Blount cast the dissenting vote, while Councilwoman LaKeisha Gantt abstained.
Blount said he is not against forming a police department, but he dissented because he said more financial data needs to be gathered in order to know what the actual costs will be.
“I’m for a police department 100 percent, but I want to make sure we are all clear on what we are voting for and what the future holds and what the costs are going to be,” said Blount.
Gantt said she would prefer to table the vote in order to get more information on how much funding will be needed.
“I feel like this was thrown up tonight unexpectedly,” she said.
Blount and Gantt also expressed concerns about the lack of detailed plans for a start-up police department.
“We haven’t laid out any other information about a police department after the startup costs,” said Gantt. “I would love for us to discuss that, make sure all the citizens are aware. We need to be very conscious of that part. … bonding, that’s just part one; are we going to do part one and not have a long-term plan in place?”
“We need information brought forward other than just for this $3 million,” said Blount. “It makes no sense.”
Stockbridge is currently the only incorporated city in Henry County that does not have its own police department. The last time Stockbridge had a police department was 1978 when the department was dissolved under a clouded reputation as a speed trap. The Sheriff’s Office took over policing responsibilities at that time, handing over the duties to the county police in 1991.
City residents pay a millage of 1.824 to fund police protection provided by the Henry County Police Department.
City Manager Randy Knighton said a study by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia indicated that the city could expect to pay about $5.68 million per year to staff, equip and operate a police department.
Ed Wall, the city’s financial advisor, said $3 million in bonds paid over a seven-year period would add about $535,000 annually to the county’s general fund expenses.
Stockbridge residents currently pay no city property tax, but Mayor Anthony Ford said he feels it is likely the expense of operating a police department will make it necessary to levy a property tax.
“I would like to let the citizens know that there will be a tax,” he said. “… it is my simple assumption that there will be some type of tax involved. Maybe a lot of folks will say they are fine with that.”
The $3 million in bonds approved Monday are in addition to $22 million the council approved in November to fund completion of the city’s amphitheater project as well as construct a new cultural arts center and initiate a master trail plan.