The City of Hoschton is mulling the addition of a police department, but if population projections come to fruition one might be inevitable.
Hoschton mayor Shannon Sell told a crowd of 30-40 citizens who gathered Tuesday (Oct. 20) for an outdoor town hall meeting that the city could have 10,000 residents between the next four to seven years.
“From our research, and talking to law enforcement, I doubt there is a city in the state of Georgia, maybe not in the country, with 10,000 people in it that doesn’t have a police department,” Sell said.
The need for a department will be unavoidable, according to Snell.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of whether we should, it’s a matter of when,” he said. “As the city grows, we’re going to need a police department.”
Nevertheless, most of those on hand at the meeting didn’t feel the city of around 2,000 residents currently warranted a police department.
Sell took a show of hands of how many wanted a police department now, and only two residents raised their hands.
More hands went up, however, when he asked if Hoschton with 5,000 residents should have a department and almost all hands were raised when he moved the population figure to 10,000.
Hoschton is currently served by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, though a city department would allow for prompter response times.
“Our sheriff has told us, she said, ‘Shannon we’re going to be there for you, but we may not get there as fast as your own police department should,’’’ Sell said.
But Sell warned that a police force would be expensive. Based on the city’s research, the cost for each officer would be $100,000 per year once all expenses are tallied.
The city actually provided a police force for years. But financial woes forced the city to scrap its police force about a decade ago and Sell said there’s not a sufficient revenue stream to re-institute the police department. Hoschton doesn’t levy a property tax.
“If we want it, we’ve got pay for it,” Sell said. “There is no revenue stream coming into Hoschton to pay for a police officer.”
Resident Michael Bagwell pushed back against that, though, asking the city to investigate how it afforded a police department previously. Bagwell said if more revenue is required for a police department, that money needs to be justified.
A handful of other residents spoke to the council about police service.
Bart Taylor asked if Hoschton could simply pay neighboring Braselton to provide that service.
“We have addressed that,” Sell said, “and they’ve said ‘no.’”
Doug Hunt asked what level of property tax would be required to start a police department. Sell wasn’t certain, saying the city is still running numbers.
Jimmy Freeman asked why the city hadn’t sought a five-year, $535,000 federal grant for a police force. Sell said no one has informed the city of such a grant.
“If you’ve got an address, we’re willing to call them,” Sell told him.
Sell also used the town hall meeting to discuss various other ideas, which included:
•building new city hall offices to alleviate space constraints in the current city hall, which Sell called “old” and “feeble.”
•increasing council member and mayor pay from the current rate of $25 per meeting to attract future candidates.
•changing the city charter to transition to a city manager-run government; adding two council seats; and electing council members from districts rather than at-large to protect representation on the council in the downtown area.
•implementing a city property tax. “We do not have a sustainable revenue source to operate this city long-term,” Sell said.
•the formation of a downtown development authority.
According to Sell, the council could not address the construction of Twin Lake, a development which will bring close to 3,000 homes into the city, due to the city being in litigation with The Kolter Group, which is developing the subdivision.
The council also fielded complaints about traffic and speeders through town.