GALVESTON — Galveston's Town Council on Tuesday evening narrowly voted to eliminate the police department's reserve program in order to cut costs, months after two officers departed the force, which left only a town marshal to patrol the town of 1,300 residents.
Council members voted 3-2 at the July 5 meeting to dismantle the program indefinitely. The program has seven officers who haven't worked for most of the year because they aren't provided insurance, which the town hasn't had to fund in 2016 because the past board canceled those costs.
John Hart, Butch Alcorn and Jim Jackson voted for the motion, with Tara Hughes and Jennaca Combs voting against.
Hart, council president, said even though the town isn't paying for insurance costs this year, he said eliminating the program will insure no reserve officers will "abuse the equipment."
"When we get everything done, then we can start fresh," Hart said. "We don't know where we're at. There's no sense of our equipment being out there."
The town has to make up for its budget falling short by about $250,000 this year after an incorrect submission to the state by the past town council and clerk-treasurer. The council is currently discussing the budget for 2017 and will mull a possible tax increase to add revenue.
In May, one officer abruptly resigned; another officer retired in June. Some council members have said they don't want to fill those two positions in order to save money. That leaves Town Marshal Shawn Durham as the only officer in the department.
Hart said the past council, who were all replaced by this year's board, canceled the insurance for the reserve officers, adding that "no one knew it." The officers didn't have worker's compensation or medical insurance, even though they worked up until Feb. 10.
Durham said reserve officer equipment that belongs to the town are uniforms, badges, ballistic vests and department-issued firearms. Some of the officers use their own guns and also have purchased duty gear and boots.
"I don't agree with it, just for the safety and the security of the citizens of Galveston," Durham said. "But at this point, I'm not included in those discussions, and obviously the board isn't on the same level with each other about it either."
Council member Jennaca Combs said since the town isn't spending money on the officers, the council shouldn't eliminate the program. She said that decision should have been made in the midst of budget discussions, which the council began on Wednesday, July 6.
"If we already have the people there, and they're already qualified, and we have no issues other than finances, why not keep it in place?" Combs questioned. "We've been doing that for the last six months, and it's been fine."
Hart added that depending on how the budget process goes and how the state ultimately decides for the town's budget, Galveston could start off the year with less money than it had hoped for in 2017, similar to what occured in 2016.
"We don't look for it to happen, but it's possible that we could be stuck again with the same amount that we have this year," he said.
The board also set a date for an special meeting open to the public pertaining to disciplinary action of a town employee. Hart said the lawyer the town has contracted with is still working on the resolution in the case. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. July 26.
Reach Ben Middelkamp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5117.