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Molena citizens to decide PD’s fate on November ballot

By Dwain W. Penn Mayor Jay Garner and council called a special meeting on May 21 to discuss the referendum that will allow citizens to vote in November on whether to retain or close the city police department. Council approved for the ballot referendum to read: Shall the city of Molena continue to operate a police department? Garner opened the meeting by praising the work of the police department over the years. It is currently staffed by one paid employee, interim police chief Novin Darsey, who is assisted by 10 volunteers. Most of the volunteers are retired officers seeking to retain their certification. In February 2014, council began the process of disbanding the department, which was quickly reversed by public outcry and the effort of councilman George Ingram. With the mounting cost to run the department becoming a burden on the city’s budget, a $6 water customer fee was levied this year to help offset some of the expense. ’The city needs to disband the police department and look to the county sheriff’s office for local patrol and county and state law enforcement agencies to handle traffic violations,’ said Garner. He then used a PowerPoint presentation to map out reasons to support his statement. He said the city can’t afford it. With an austere annual budget, many times referred to as ‘bare bones,’ he said funds are not available to sustain the department and provide other necessary services to the citizens of Molena. He said city council has always been stewardship-minded. He said trying to provide a very costly service with a very small annual budget results in the postponing of maintenance and repair in other areas of the city. The city charter requires the provision of certain services to remain a city. If these services are not sustained, there is the possibility that Molena will cease to be a city. Molena is the last small city in Pike County to provide a police department. Both Williamson and Concord receive their law enforcement protection through the county. Garner, with the aid of photographs, began to list a litany of items and areas in the city in dire need of attention through funds for repairs and renovation. ’We are sadly kicking the can down the road,’ said Garner in reference to delaying repairs and maintenance. ‘If we wait too long, there won’t be a need to polish a rust bucket.’ Those areas and items pointed out included a broken welcome sign, city hall doors that need fixing, the city clerk’s floor which is collapsing, a playground in disrepair with the fence torn down (described by Garner as the same as when he was 3 years old), drainage issues at the walking track and the mat that prohibits grass needs replacing, a run down tennis court, recent grant-installed sidewalks downtown which need repair and the sidewalk at the city park which is dangerous for pedestrians. Garner praised the civic club for its work in providing renovations and much needed funds for some city projects but he said there is a limit of what they can do to help. Recent city hall work was done by the civic club and they spearheaded the project to establish the city walking track. Attention was then turned to a lengthy list of streets in need of public funds. Among them, but not exclusive, were Grubb Street, Watson Road, Zechariah Court and Sands Road. Due to erosion problems, Watson Road was described as a ditch. A recent project that cost $2,000 had all the pot holes in the city patched through the effort of Charles Martin, but those repairs were deemed only temporary. Garner said the city doesn’t provide sewerage for its residents and because of that, during extreme wet weather, many citizens experience problems with their septic systems. Other assessments for the state of the city included the cemetery fence as a safety hazard, the city storage building still leaks, and the fire department need backfill of dirt or gravel in some areas around the concrete slab. Contrasting the old with the new, Garner mentioned the old city jail is deteriorating and the city’s newest amenity, the pavilion, needs funds to provide a parking area and fix drainage problems. ’Being a Molenan includes more than those residents living in the half mile radius of the city,’ said Garner, ‘It includes many others in a larger community outside the city. The city owes those nearby residents some benefit of county protection by closing the municipal police department.’ Public comments were then received and about half of the dozen in attendance spoke. Some agreed with the assessment to close the police department while a few wanted it to remain open. One lady asked council about any evidence of city residents being fearful of crime. Another expressed the need to rid the city of drugs which would eliminate the need for a police presence. Garner was encouraged by the overall content of the comments and wanted to expedite the closing of the police department prior to Nov. 3, but prudence prevailed and council agreed to await the results of the November ballot on the fate of the Molena police department.

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