ELLERBE — The Richmond County Board of Commissioners agreed at their monthly meeting Tuesday to offer the Town of Ellerbe a contract which would allow the town to be covered by Richmond County Sheriff’s Office deputies for 12 hours during the evening with the help of federal American Rescue Plan funds.
The agreement was part of the Board of Commissioners’ consent agenda, and will be sent to Ellerbe for approval at their next monthly meeting on July 12. The town moved forward with their 2021-2022 budget without the roughly $180,000 to fund 24 hours of law enforcement coverage, marking the first time the town hasn’t renewed this contract since it was first signed in 1999 following the dissolution of the town’s police force.
This new offer, if approved by Ellerbe, would keep a deputy within the town’s limits from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day, and would expire on June 30, 2022. The county has offered to allocate $113,994.02 of its $8,707,508 in federal American Rescue Plan monies — distributed to assist local governments recover from the pandemic — to help pay for what would have been a $180,665.02 contract. Ellerbe would pay a total of $66,661, with quarterly payments of $16,665.25.
Ellerbe Mayor Fred Cloninger said this new offer includes “revisions we requested” from the county after initial discussions were unsatisfactory. Sheriff James Clemmons and Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge did not respond to a request for comment on how the contract came about.
The town’s previous $180,000 annual contract was already a discounted rate based on 12 hours of coverage, while providing 24 hours of coverage, according to County Manager Bryan Land. The total cost for 24 hours of coverage would be an estimated $319,000 annually, Land said.
The Town Council voted 4-1 to approve their budget in June without the money for law enforcement coverage, with Councilman John Sears voting against it due to this issue. Cloninger and other council members have received pushback from residents, both in personal conversations and multiple public comments made at monthly meetings, criticizing them for considering not having a deputy in town at all times.
The council members who voted in favor of the budget said they were concerned that the cost was too high for the town which is already grappling with loses incurred due to the county changing to an ad valorem sales tax distribution method in April 2020. As a result of this change to the distribution method, the town made about $400,000 in budget cuts (including dropping the RCSO contract for 2021-2022) from their 2019 position to balance their budget.
Throughout the talks about ending the contract, which began at least as early as the fall of 2019 (prior to the sales tax distribution change), Clemmons and Land have maintained that the level of service to Ellerbe would not suffer if they didn’t have the contract. Neither Norman nor Hoffman have interlocal agreements with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement coverage.
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Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]