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Council Begins Process of Working up $15.3 Million Budget for New Fiscal Year, Discusses Potential $60,000 for DEA Tactical Diversion Squad Position

By Julie Perine on February 27, 2018 via Connect-Bridgeport.com

As City Council members communicated their thoughts regarding potential funding of a Bridgeport Police Department position to be utilized by the Drug Enforcement Agency Tactical Diversion Squad, it was becoming apparent that this time, the vote would be affirmative.
 
Funding such a position has been tossed around by Council since December of 2016. Councilman Lowell Maxey, a former DEA agent, brought the matter before the city’s governing body Monday evening. Since the matter was introduced well over a year ago, Maxey has remained adamant that the position was well worth the investment and that it would be valuable in fighting the current opioid crisis.
Maxey, Councilor John Wilson and Recorder Hank Murray spoke in favor of the issue, as did Mayor Andy Lang, who in the event of a Council vote, would break a tie. Councilmen Bob Greer, Dustin Vincent and Jeff Smell all felt the matter would be better addressed throughout the current budget session, which kicked off in a work session preceding Monday’s meeting.
 
After discussion of the matter, Greer questioned whether Council could vote upon the matter since the agenda item was not worded to solicit action. City Attorney Dean Ramsey said the verbiage did not call for action and therefore, Lang let the matter be dropped.
 
Maxey introduced the line item, thanking Lang for enabling him to put it back on the agenda. Monday was the first time the matter had been discussed since Lang took the mayor’s seat in June of 2017.
 
“Back in December of 2016, I had prepared a written motion for Council for funding $60,000 for a new full-time position for Bridgeport Police Department to the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad and during that meeting – for lack of a better term – I was preempted with a motion for the city to put forward $40,000, along with the Clarksburg Police Department, to fund a position through the (Harrison County) Sheriff’s department for an additional person for the TDS; a combined $80,000 from Bridgeport and Clarksburg,” Maxey said.
That position never came to fruition as the DEA didn’t want to proceed in that direction.
 
Monday evening, Maxey asked Council to appropriate $60,000 to fund the full-time position through Bridgeport Police Department.
“For the past couple of months, I’ve tried to bring Council up to date on what is currently underway regarding the attack on the opioid problem through the state and country, including the realignment of DEA assets to attack the problem here in West Virginia and in Kentucky and Tennessee,” Maxey said. “But I still feel it’s important that we participate in this program with the DEA, giving (Bridgeport Police) Chief John Walker the knowledge that he could move forward with communicating with the DEA.”
 
Wilson addressed Walker in the meeting, making sure the department would still be adequately staffed, not only to serve our city’s 8,800 residents, but also thousands of others who pour into the city for recreational events, conferences and business purposes.
 
Walker made Council aware that in addition to current law enforcement staff, there are three new hires currently enrolled in the West Virginia State Police Academy. After finishing the program April 27, the police rookies will complete four months of field training and thereafter assigned a work zone, likely in mid- to late-August.
 
“August is the target date to transfer somebody (to the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad),” Walker said, adding that an extensive background search is necessary.
 
The officer would serve an unlimited term, but Maxey said on several occasions that the transfer did not have to be permanent and that Walker would have full flexibility to make decisions with that regard. Training and education costs, as well as vehicle maintenance, fuel and overtime wages would be paid for by the DEA.
Wilson pointed out that if the officer did transfer back to the city police department, he or she would come with some very valuable training.
Greer said he felt going forward with the proposal would be micromanaging the police department.
 
“I will not be voting for this proposal today,” he said. “This is an issue which should – in my opinion – be taken up as a global discussion about the budget and whether or not there are sufficient funds in the current budget to fund a new additional full-time employee for any position. It’s premature and inappropriate at this stage of the game, especially on the night we are handed the budget which goes into effect July 1.”
 
The DEA has waited two years for an answer. They can wait another three months, Greer said.
 
Smell and Vincent echoed some of Greer’s concerns. Smell said he would like to see Council discuss the matter during the budget process and if it’s something the governing body collectively feels positively about, that Chief Walker would be able to make the call.
“Then we could all agree on that and find the necessary dollars to do that,” he said.
 
Vincent said the TDS is a fantastic program, but his major concern is that Bridgeport taxpayer money needs to be spent wisely in the City of Bridgeport – in the immediate area.
 
Lang saw it a different way.
 
“I realize we are a town of 8,800 and we take care of that, but at the same time, our town is prepared to spend $35 million on an indoor recreation center – which is phenomenal – but based on the fact that we’re asking other people to come to our town as we always do, this is a situation where we can give back to other areas.”
 
Lang said he didn’t delve into the issue blindly. He said he personally talked with J.T. Scroggs of the DEA, as well as a couple of DEA agents and retired FBI agents, Chief Walker and Sheriff Robert Matheny. He said he also read prepared statements previously written by Maxey and Greer, explaining their position on the issue.
 
The matter may be revisited at a future Council meeting.
 
Council did vote to approve one items Monday night. Members approved the final reading of an ordinance, affirming a price increase in the purchase of 5.50 acres of land along Route 131. Being purchased from the Benedum Airport Authority, the selling price raised from $247,500 to $264,000 after a second appraisal, which was necessary due to the length of time it took to finalize the deal. The additional money was appropriated through a capital reserve fund budget revision. Ramsey said the closing would take place Wednesday.
 
One matter of housekeeping was taken care of at Monday’s meeting. City Engineer Beth A. Fox was authorized to be a voting delegate at the 32nd Annual Business Meeting of the West Virginia Rural Water Association and Superintendent of Utilities Jared V. Cummons was authorized as an alternative delegate.
 
The meeting opened in prayer by the Rev. Benedict E. Kapa of All Saints Catholic Church and concluded with a moment of silence for legendary BHS Football Coach Wayne “Smiley” Jamison, who passed away Friday, Feb. 23 at the age of 87. Jamison took the job as head varsity football coach in 1970, subsequently winning the state AAA championships in 1972 and 1979 and the class AA championships in 1986 and 1988. Read Council members’ comments about Jamison in an upcoming story on Connect-Bridgeport.
 
The meeting was preceded by a work session, during which Council members were presented with a working copy of the 2018-19 fiscal year budget in the amount of $15.3 million. More will be reported on that work session.



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