For Baldwin County’s small towns, the cost of law enforcement is a large percentage of the budget. Just ask Perdido Beach, which includes just 581 residents located on Perdido Bay north of Orange Beach.
The town incorporated in 2009, and in its first year reported zero income and operated solely on a $50,000 line of credit. Its first real budget, approved for the 2010 fiscal year, included just $128,000 in revenue and $72,000 in expenses. This year, the town’s revenues are projected to reach $333,000.
Despite its incorporation, Perdido Beach has received law enforcement service from the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office in the same way it did historically. Deputies patrol eight designated zoned areas in the county and Perdido Beach, but the town lacks a full-time law enforcement presence.
Mayor Patsy Parker said it has very little crime and according to the BCSO, the town’s crime statistics are low compared to the rest of the county. Offenses are generally limited to misdemeanor thefts, speeding and suspicion of drug activity after hours at boat launches, incidents that officials believe could be further curbed by a dedicated police force.
“We have a very low crime rate, so the deputy doesn’t have to spend very much time out here,” Parker said. “But they are very good about coming out when we call. And they patrol the area regularly, so a law enforcement presence is here.”
Now, the Baldwin County Commission is asking the town to figure out how it can pay approximately $50,000 per year for a full-time deputy to patrol the area 40 hours per week.
According to figures provided by Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack at a recent Baldwin County Commission work session, the cost to the county to provide a full-time, 40-hour-per-week deputy to a municipality is approximately $80,000 per year for salary, benefits, a vehicle and equipment. The BCSO would hire a deputy for Perdido Beach if the town and county reach an agreement for a $50,000 reimbursement.
“We just don’t bring in much revenue,” Parker said. “We are trying to figure out how we can afford to do this.”
For such a small town, an additional $50,000 payment could mean it has to put plans on hold for other services to residents, like paving roads.
“Right now we have enough in savings to contract with the sheriff for about two years, but we may not have enough to be able to sustain it past that,” Parker said. “And we also planned to use some of the savings money to resurface [County Road] 97. If we sustain the contract beyond two years, that may mean we have to choose between maintaining streets and law enforcement.”
According to County Commissioner Tucker Dorsey, the county should treat Perdido Beach the same way it does similarly sized towns BCSO contracts with, like Magnolia Springs, where 2010 Census data recorded 723 residents.
“By law the town is required to provide law enforcement services to its citizens,” Dorsey said. “Magnolia Springs was incorporated in 2007, I think, and within the first year, they were paying us for deputy service. Perdido Beach was incorporated in 2009 and it is time they take this next step.”
Last week, Commissioner Chris Elliott agreed with Dorsey, saying police service is vital, and municipalities must be able to provide it in some way.
“This is the logical next step of being a municipality,” Elliott said. “The town incorporated in 2009, and if after six and a half years we aren’t treating them the same way we treat other municipalities, we’ll have a problem countywide.”
Parker invited Mack and Dorsey to come to the town’s March City Council meeting to discuss law enforcement issues further. The mayor said ultimately the City Council will decide whether or not to enter into a contract with the county.
Dorsey said the County Commission might be willing to cover the town until the beginning of the next fiscal year in September, then ask Perdido Beach to stand on its own.
“I’m willing to let this go into the next fiscal year, but I don’t think it is the county’s responsibility to continue past that,” he explained. “That will give the town the time to work on its next budget to prepare for this expenditure. Law enforcement is one of the primary functions of a town, and Perdido Beach should put itself in a position to be able to offer this to its residents.”