Sheriff and Cottageville in dispatching dispute
by The Press and Standard | June 13, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: June 12, 2019 at 11:21 am
The clock is ticking on the dispute between Colleton County Sheriff R.A. Strickland and Cottageville concerning the fate of the town’s police dispatching.
The sheriff, in an early February certified letter, called on the town to provide approximately $90,000 towards the operation of the county’s 911-dispatch center.
Cottageville Mayor Tim Grimsley said the town can’t afford to pay the amount equal to having the town provide the salary, insurance and fringe benefits for two dispatchers.
He points out the town’s proposed fiscal year budget totals $600,000.
Strickland pointed out that the dispatch center provides services to the two other municipal police departments, Walterboro and Edisto Beach, through agreements.
Walterboro covers the salary and fringe benefits for four dispatchers.
Strickland explained that the sheriff’s office has a comprehensive mutual aid agreement with Edisto Beach that encompasses law enforcement coverage in the community and dispatch services.
That agreement formalizes the police department’s and sheriff’s office’s ability to provide joint law enforcement coverage in the town and the county areas located just outside the Edisto Beach border. That agreement, Strickland added, frees up two deputy positions.
That cost savings in road patrol manpower enables the sheriff’s office to provide dispatch services to the Edisto Beach Police Department.
If Cottageville does not provide the funding, it is possible the town’s police department would have to find another way to handle dispatch services.
The sheriff and mayor have not sat down and talked about the funding ultimatum.
The sheriff says he has made numerous efforts to contact Grimsley. Grimsley said the sheriff has never phoned him personally, the mayor’s office or the town’s clerk.
Both Grimsley and Strickland discussed the dispute with county council, but not each other, during the June 4 Colleton County Council session.
Grimsley initially sought to meet county council members in executive session to discuss the dispute. County council declined to meet with Grimsley behind closed doors, pointing out that they had no role in the dispute. Faced with that decision, Grimsley reluctantly sought time during the public comments section of the council session. “I did not wish this to be discussed in open session,” Grimsley told county council.
Grimsley said at the county council sessions that Cottageville residents are providing funding for the dispatch center. Town residents are paying the one-cent Capital Project Sales Tax that provided funds for the construction of a new Law Enforcement Center that will eventually include a new home for the Emergency Dispatch Center. Phone bills, he added, contain a 911 surcharge for the 911 system.
Strickland’s handling of the dispute, Grimsley said, is a case of the sheriff trying to “make me the bad guy here.”
A short time later, Strickland came to the podium at the county council session to refute some of Grimsley’s comments.
The sheriff said he had sent a certified letter to both Grimsley and Cottageville Police Chief J.C. Cook in early February that first broached the subject of the town providing the funding.
In that letter, Strickland said, he asked for a response from the town within 30 days.
He waited for over 90 days and then sent another certified letter on May 15.
That letter gives the town 30 business days to decide if the town will provide the funding or make other arrangements for dispatch services. Grimsley said, depending on how Memorial Day is considered, the deadline is either June 23 or 24.
The mayor said he has been making numerous phone calls about the situation and expects to have something in place before reaching the deadline.
To begin the conversation, Strickland said, “All they had to do was talk to me.” Instead of having that discussion, Strickland alleged, Grimsley contacted a Charleston television station, the county administration and county council.
Strickland told county council he is seeking operational funds from Cottageville because of the workload generated by Cottageville Police Department.
He said that in 2012-2013, Cottageville Police Department accounted for 5,302 computer-aided dispatch entries.
In 2016-2017, the town accounted for 7,895 CAD entries. Each day, from midnight to 6 a.m., the dispatch center handles all Cottageville Police Department’s calls for service, Strickland added.
“I am not asking for anything unreasonable,” Strickland said of his funding request.
“We want to work with them,” Strickland said. “Come have a talk with me.”
On June 5, Cottageville Town Council met in special session to discuss the dispute with town residents and then field questions.
Strickland did not attend the Cottageville Council meeting. Colleton County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Shalane Lowes said the sheriff was not asked to attend the meeting and didn’t want to over-step his boundaries. However, she added, if the sheriff was asked to attend the meeting he would have been more than glad to respond to their request.