By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Town of Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen waded through its preliminary budget meeting at town hall Wednesday, May 31, but not before voting unanimously to approve the lease of nine police department vehicles the BMA initially authorized as a budget item at the May 8 meeting.

Jonesborough Police Chief Ron Street said the department reduced the number of vehicles from 10 to nine in its budget. The nine Ford Explorers will cost $274,962.12 while other equipment such as radios (at $82,144.50) and graphics for the cars (at $2,800) add up to a total of $359,906.62. The resolution that passed at the May 31 meeting also included a recommendation for either a three or four-year lease for the vehicles.

The police department is also facing a decrease in revenue for the drug fund that dropped nearly $5,000 compared to last year’s total.

“We cannot tell at this point whether there’s a reduction in the amount of arrests that are being made or whether it’s some type of bookkeeping error. I went back and looked at the last two years, the number of arrests that have been made,” Street added. “There’s only a three-arrest difference in a year ago and this year. So the numbers are still there. It could be something that the courts are not collecting. It could be a combination of things.”

Director of Public Safety Craig Ford also mentioned asset forfeiture laws—which is the legal process in which police officers can seize a person’s property if they are suspected of being involved in criminal activity—and the changes those laws have seen in Tennessee this year in relation to the police department’s decline in drug fund revenue.

“There are several things that have changed about that. The asset forfeitures, the way they used to be are no longer that way. So we don’t get that large portion of the money we’re used to,” Street added. “We’re seeing a lot of changes such as seizing of vehicles and confiscating vehicles; used to you could get them on one DUI and now it takes two (with prior conviction). So the law’s going against us in some asset forfeiture funds that’s going to cost us an amount of money to reduce.”

Town Administrator Bob Browning said that the drug fund had built to the point they were able to purchase a vehicle for the police department in this fiscal year that could also be used for the K-9 units. But now, as a result to the revenue decrease, the police department doesn’t plan to decrease K-9 expenses, but rather sustain the fund.

“We’re for the most part just going to maintain our K-9 program through the use of those drug funds,” Browning said. “We will not be looking at a capital expense like a vehicle or some other kind of equipment that might be used in the police enforcement that would include drug control.”

The department is also looking to add two new line items to their budget, however; Street told the board that Jonesborough is looking to a different policing tool to add to their tool belt that he believes could create a safer environment for patrons and police staff.

“Tasers are the new instrument in law enforcement and you’ll find doing your research that they can reduce the amount of injuries to the officers and to the public we arrest by 60 percent,” Street said. “It’s just another tool for the officers that sometimes keeps them from getting hurt and sometimes keeps them from hurting an individual out there.”

The tasers would cost $14,400, but Street said a the cost should be offset by a recent employee retirement.

Street also said the department has 18 outdated sets of body armor and is asking for $8,000 to coincide with a possible grant that could cover 50 percent of the cost.

“Traditionally what’s happened is the reserves force, which is very instrumental and very helpful to us, has always got hand-me-downs,” Street said. “They’re using the bulletproof vests now that are by far way out of date. Our plans are to update that.”