The general sentiment of a standing room only crowd of Waveland residents was simple. Resident after resident said don't get rid of the city's police department. At least for a night, that wish was granted.
Waveland is in a desperate financial situation and has to take drastic cost cutting measures and do it soon. The idea of dissolving the police department, is just one plan under consideration, but it led to a very emotional meeting on Tuesday.
And when the meeting ended, an expected vote by city leaders on the controversial issue never came. The Waveland Board of Aldermen tabled the matter, but not before a lot of debate, and plenty of supportive comments about the police department from neighbors around the city.
"I think it's a crying shame your going to get rid of our police department," one resident said. If you don't have a police department why do you need a mayor why should we live here for what reason I think you should think long and hard before you make this decision."
City leaders say no one wants to see the police department abolished. But, Waveland City Attorney Gary Yarborough told the crowd the board faces serious budget woes. "We have currently have about a 1.1 million dollar shortfall for the fiscal year. The city has a cash flow problem the city has a the city has an expenditure problem." the city attorney said.
But even that might be an understatement.
"We're being told if it's not done immediately we don't have payroll." said Alderman Shane LaFontaine.
The proposal on the table is for the Hancock County Sheriff's Department to handle police protection in the city. The sheriff has agreed to provide two officers per shift to patrol Waveland at a cost of $570,000, significantly less than what Waveland budgets for its police department.
Abolishing the police department doesn't sit well with Mike Hardy. "Our calls are way more than the counties calls. How is two officers going to protect our city and answer the calls how is it going to happen?" Hardy asked.
Mickey LaGasse expressed a different concern. "One of my main concerns is the safety for my children is the S.O. going to be able to run radar on the city streets of Waveland," LaGasse wondered.
The answer he was given was leaders aren't sure yet.
Other residents offered solutions to the budget crunch. One gentlemen asked, "Has anyone ever thought about putting our two little cities together? We could put these two cities together and maybe have a real city." The two cities Harvey Cooper referred to were Waveland and Bay St. Louis.
Brenda Macomb had another idea. "At this point rather than loose our police department I am not opposed I sure most of these people are not opposed to a small increase in taxes right now," said Macomb, a comment that elicited applause from audience members.
According to Alderman Mark Kidd, "Whatever decision we make it's going to be an extremely hard decision it's nothing that any of us up here wants."
Ousted police chief Jimmy Varnell was at the meeting. The board, in a unanimous vote agreed with the mayor's recommendation. to terminate Chief Varnell.
Alderman will revisit the police department issue at Wednesday night's board meeting.
One other note. The mayor David Garcia is recovering from surgery in a New Orleans Hospital. He's expected back to work Monday.
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