CommunityGovernment

Park construction awarded, police policies discussed, budget reviewed in monthly meeting

By Clint Parker

Woodfin – A bid to build the new Silver-Line Park was accepted by the Town of Woodfin at the regular monthly meeting of the town commissioners on Tuesday evening (June 16). The vote was the first to come up after the meeting’s regular preliminary housekeeping items were taken care of along with the public forum, which no one spoke.

Baker Grading, of Old Fort, NC, won the contract with a bid of $1.89 million to build phase I and II of the park. Baker won with the lowest bid beating Frank L Blum Construction of Winston-Salem, NC, at $2.376 million and Patton Construction of Arden, NC, at $2.474 million. Work on the park by Baker is expected to begin next month.

“The engineers have checked, and we have checked, and they [Baker] meet all the qualifications to award that bid. So at this time do we have a motion for Baker Grading,” asked Woodfin Mayor Jerry VeHaun of the commissioners when calling for a vote. Vice Mayor Commissioner Debbie Giezentanner made the motion and Commission Ronald Lunsford seconded it with the vote unanimous.

The next item of business was a vote to raise fees on several town services, which, according to Acting Town Administrator Michael Saunders had not been raised since 2015. Saunders said the average increases in fees was about $50 and some of the increases in the new fee schedule included a permit for a single-family home would be $200 up $50; and a residential multi-family permit would go to $300 up $50; a conditional use permit would go from $500 to $750. The new fee schedule passed unanimously.

Review of police policy

The next item was a review of Woodfin’s police use of force policy. Woodfin Police Chief Michael Dykes reviewed for the commissioners, in the wake of recent protests over the death of George Floyd and calls across the nation by some to defund police departments, how his department handles the use of force. Dykes said it was more a list of “what they should not do” rather than what they could do.

He then went into the two different types of force used by the Woodfin Police – nondeadly and deadly. Dykes explained chokeholds and vascular constraints are not allowed “excepts when the officer reasonably believes there is an imminent threat to serious physical injury or death to himself or a third party if he or she does not do so.”

About this time, Commissioner Giezentanner asked Dykes if it was excepted policy for an officer to “put your knee on someone’s neck?…Is that even really taught?”

“There are techniques taught that teach a vascular restraint,” Dykes explained, “A vascular restraint is not a choke or strangulation. A vascular restraint restricts the flow of blood to the brain and causes a subject to pass out…We don’t use a vascular restraint.” So the Woodfin Police do not use a leg to the neck restraint concluded Dykes.

“That probably needs to be clearly put in there,” said Giezentanner. Commissioner Lunsford, interjected, “I disagree, and I’ll tell you why. Everything that these officers have to put up with ain’t in the book, it ain’t black and white. You get a subject that’s on PCP or heroin or whatever, they can put up a heck of a fight, and I think an officer, depending on the situation, they’re trained in the situation…I think they have to use whatever force is necessary to subdue that subject.”

“Maybe we ought to have a review of these things with the committee,” Giezentanner said in response. “The thing is I’m thinking of protecting our citizens, but I’m also thinking about protecting our officers. Because you have someone who loses their life and you have an officer who loses their life in a different way and never recovers.” She added that she didn’t think the commissioners had ever looked though the police policy on force, adding, “Have we?” She went on to say, “This is the time, it might be good to review to make sure we all are on the same page about what we expect. Because we got to protect you all, too [meaning the police].”

Dykes explained that the policies used by his department are “run through a panel of experts in the use of force.” He also said all new officers are required to go through 120 training hours with the department, as well as annual training after that and reports are required on all use of force. No action was taken after Dyke’s presentation.

Other matters

In other matters before the commissioners, the board
appointed a new Woodfin ABC Chairman as the old one was moving out of Woodfin. Thomas L. Spradling, who was already on the Woodfin ABC Board, was appointed to chairman on the recommendation of the outgoing chairman and the other member of the ABC board.

The board also voted to pass a budget amendment, which included several decreases and several increases. The reductions came in the maintenance of buildings ($4,500) and grounds and money needed by the Woodfin Youth League and Woodfin Elementary ($7,000) due to COVID-19 closings. The increases came from salaries and wages ($14,000), retirement to local government ($16,000) and leased vehicles ($27,142.31).

Review of 2020-2021 budget

The commissioners then took time to review the 2020-2021 upcoming year budget, which is estimated at $8.96 million. Most of that budget, $4.222 million, is a non-recurring line item to build the Silver-Line Park, Riverside Park and The Wave. After that, policing takes $1.641 million of the budget, followed by administration at $1.042 million.

“You notice that our budget at the present time doesn’t balance and the reason is because our revenues are greater than our expenditures,” explained Mayor VeHaun. “I guess its a good thing to have.” VeHaun then reported revenue is expected to be $9.017 million adding the budget did not take into account a cost of living raise for town employees, any police cars and a dump truck that had been planned on for the last two years all of which would add an additional $130,474 went into the budget bringing the total budget, if added, to $9.091 million.

VeHaun pointed out, “One thing that made a big difference to us was property values in Woodfin which up $50 million this past year. Which is a good increase and that helped us a tremendous amount; otherwise, we would have had a really bare-bones budget this year.” Which caused Commissioner Lunsford to remark, “I know because my taxes went up this year.”

In the ensuing discussions, Chief Dykes talked about the police officers for going a three percent raise in exchange for help with insurance cost, but it was thought that would be unfair to some employees and the town would be revisiting the insurance plans in December. In the end, the commissioners voted to amend the budget to include the $130,474 in supplementary spending for the police cars, the cost of living for all employees and the new dump truck. A vote to approve the budget is set for June 26 at noon.

Additionally, the board also heard several reports for the various departments and after the regular meeting when into executive session.

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