Edinburg may look to sheriff for help

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office might take over law enforcement duties for Edinburg.

Town officials and the Sheriff’s Office are working out the details of a possible agreement that would transfer the responsibilities to the county agency. The town would then dissolve its police department.

Edinburg Mayor Daniel Harshman told the Board of Supervisors about the idea at a work session Tuesday but noted that the parties are in the early stages of working out an agreement.

“Edinburg has struggled for years to provide 24-7 coverage in town,” Harshman told the board. “We, right now, do not have [it].”

The town police department consists of two full-time officers. Chief Mike Clem, who works part-time, plans to retire at the end of April. As Edinburg officials considered the next step, Harshman said Clem suggested they consider asking the county to take over law enforcement in town and doing away with the police department.

“Nothing in there is carved in stone,” Harshman said at the meeting. “We just are interested in knowing if there is any interest from the county. We might do it. We might not.”

In addition to providing round-the-clock coverage for Edinburg, the town also should save some money by no longer operating a police department, Harshman said Tuesday after the meeting. The town spends about $138,000 of its $500,000 operating budget on the police department. The town can’t afford the latest advancements in technology such as computers in police cars, Harshman said.

“There’s no way for us to keep up with that and we see that it’s going to be a long time before we think we’re going to be in a position to do that,” Harshman said.

The mayor noted that the town department also acts as a training ground for other area law enforcement agencies, the mayor said. The town would hire people without certification, send them to the academy and lose the officers to higher-paying jobs at other agencies, Harshman said.

“It’s just one of those things that, if this makes sense once we come to some kind of terms with the sheriff and it makes sense for us, it’s something we’d certainly consider,” Harshman said.

If the parties move forward on the arrangement, Harshman said it was his understanding that the sheriff would consider hiring the town’s officers.

The town has attracted some interest by retired law enforcement workers in filling the part-time chief’s position through a similar arrangement Edinburg has with Clem. The town also could eliminate the chief’s position and use only two officers.

Town leaders weren’t interested in the idea initially.

“We hate to take a step backwards,” Harshman said. “But then, as we looked at it we started to realize that maybe it’s not a step backwards. Maybe it’s actually a step forward, that if we can give the town’s people better coverage and better service and actually help with our budget and save some money, that could be used somewhere else, it could be one of the better things we could do.”

Parties need to decide soon so Edinburg officials know how to craft the town budget this spring, Harshman said.

Board Chairman David Ferguson said at the meeting that he talked with Sheriff Timothy C. Carter about the matter. The arrangement would need to call for the town to cover the county’s cost to provide the service, Ferguson said.

“I think this is small enough that we’d put our hands around it and see what happens,” Ferguson said. “What are the issues that would arise that have to be addressed? Can we manage the financial end of it? Can we manage the service end of it?”

Major Scott Proctor, of the Sheriff’s Office, told the board that not all the details of the agreement had been worked out. Proctor asked the board to consider allowing parties to move forward with the agreement and to have County Attorney J. Jay Litten assist with the process.

Carter said Tuesday afternoon that the terms of the agreement would depend on the level of service Edinburg wants from his agency. Such an agreement might call for Edinburg to contract for the county agency to provide law enforcement coverage for the town, Carter explained. This arrangement also would allow the town to back out of the agreement in the future.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com