Monday, August 20, 2001

Boone cops may regroup

Walton looks at disbanding 3-man force

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        WALTON — By the end of the year, Boone County may be down to two police agencies. Walton Mayor Phillip Trzop last week said negotiations are under way to disband the 47-year-old Walton Police Department — which has three officers — and have the Boone County Sheriff's Department take over policing the city of 2,500.

        “The county's growth has pushed so far south now,” Mr. Trzop said. “Realistically, (the disbanding) could happen before Dec. 31.”

        Walton Police would become the second agency to disband this year. In July, as a cost-saving measure, the Sheriff's office and the Boone County Police Department merged, leaving the Florence Police Department as the only other agency.

        On June 30, the sheriff's department swore in 64 former county police officers as sheriff's deputies. Sheriff Mike Helmig said there's no reason for Walton residents to worry.

        “If anything, we'll increase service,” Sheriff Helmig said. “They'll have 24/7 coverage; they don't have enough manpower for that (now).”

        According to 2000 Census figures, Boone County's pop ulation rose from nearly 57,000 residents in 1990 to 86,900 residents in 2000.

        Sheriff Helmig said the three remaining Walton officers would be hired as deputies, which was Mr. Trzop's main goal in the merger.

        “They would not lose any years of service,” Sheriff Helmig said.

        Mr. Trzop says the decision to merge is inevitable. He said the city could no longer afford to be a training ground for officers to learn the business and then leave in two years.

        “We can't compete against the salaries of the big agencies,” Mr. Trzop said.

        But Councilwoman Anna Palmer, a safety committee member, has not made up her mind.

        “Right now, I don't know what is best for the community,” Ms. Palmer said. “All I can do is to see what (the county) can offer us and see what we have. We always encourage people to write city hall and tell us what they think.”

        Walton's budget called for $300,000 for the entire department, which includes salaries, benefits and equipment. Mr. Trzop said the department is allowed eight officers, but to send trainees to the state police academy in Richmond, pay and equip them would cost another $200,000.

        “That would double the tax rate,” Mr. Trzop said.

        Mr. Trzop said City Council has yet to vote on the merger. A date for that has not been set.


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