Lott City Council votes to disband police department

Police chief has until Noon Tuesday to turn over keys
Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 6:28 PM CDT
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LOTT, Texas (KWTX) - The Lott City Council voted 3-1 Monday in favor of disbanding its police department as a result of a budget shortfall.

“Our budget has been going down for about the last three years, and we just have to get it in hand,” said Mayor Sue Tacker. “It’s either that or we’re going to go broke and we won’t have a town, or a city council.”

The police chief has until 12 p.m. on Tuesday, August 23, to turn over his keys and equipment, city officials said.

At that time, the Falls County Sheriff’s Office will secure the police building and evidence room, take inventory of the evidence room, and begin transporting the inventory to the agency’s office in Marlin.

“We have a very good sheriff’s department, and they have agreed to help us as much as they can,” said Tacker.

However, residents worry crime will increase along with response times.

“Falls County is short-handed, and do you really think they’re going to be able to get here in time?” said Lott resident Jo Cromeans. “Lott will be just like any other town without police protection, everybody says ‘oh no, it’s not going to happen’...bologna, and if you live here, you know bologna.”

Other residents like Laynie Terral are also worried about response times and public safety.

“We’re going to have more crime plain and simple, when the criminals know there’s no coverage, nobody here to catch them, they’re coming in,” said Terral. “It could be life or death in my household.”

Terral has a special needs granddaughter who lives with her and says, in the past, when they’ve had to call 911, it’s taken FCSO up to 45 minutes to respond when deputies are working on the other side of the county.

“You know who responded? Our volunteer fire department and our police department, but volunteer firefighters can’t transport her if she had a medical need: police could if they had to,” said Terral.

As KWTX reported earlier this year, a three page document presented to city council revealed The Lott Police Department generated $24,061 in 2021 while its expenses cost the city $425,771.

The document projected the police department would lose the city another $256,222 in 2022 and estimated that by eliminating it, the city would get out of the red and make a profit this year and next year.

The Mayor says there just isn’t enough revenue coming in and the police department is the city’s biggest expense.

“Lott doesn’t have a lot of businesses, we don’t have a lot of industry, in fact, probably Falls County is about the poorest county that there is,” said Tacker. “We are constantly paying out more than we have coming in, people think that Lott made a lot of money off of tickets and stuff, but people don’t realize about 75 percent of that went to the state.”

Council Member John Travis Golding lead into his motion to defund and disband the department by reading this explanation to the crowd.

“As of July 31 2022, combined with the last two fiscal years, all of our departments have run a $411,800 deficit, of that $411,800, $439,931 have been police and the court department, that’s 106 percent of our overall deficit for the last three years. We have proposed a budget for this next fiscal year 2022, ending September 30 2023, in our proposed budget, we have budgeted a deficit of $104,342 for all departments for the year: our police and courts make up $237,000 of that $104,000, that’s 227 percent of the debt we’re going to be in. In the Fall of 2021, our independent auditor warned this city council that if we don’t get control of our expenses, that this city would be bankrupt in the next two to three years. It is the duty of this council to be responsible for the financial sustainability of this city.”

Golding went on to say, the City of Lott Courts Department will continue to remain in effect for the next 30 to 90 days, and Chief Michael Hamilton and his lone remaining officer, Terry Kimble, will receive two weeks severance pay.

“We have to watch our budget, and this is one of the reasons that we’re letting him go: not because we’re firing him, because we’re trying to get our budget in hand,” said Tacker. “If we don’t stop it now, there won’t be a Lott.”

The city has been hinting at the decision for more than a month while undergoing weekly budget meetings.

“What they’ve done to these police officers families, stringing them along like this, not letting them know if they’ve got a job or not...I’m upset,” said Cromeans.

Residents, many of whom are suspicious of the city’s finances and budget software, filled the Lott Civic Center during Monday night’s meeting in protest of the forthcoming decision.

“This room was packed tonight with people who were here in support of keeping this police department,” said Terral. “Citizens called for an audit for it, that never happened, those questions were never answered, how do we know they are not made up figures? because they’re not being forthcoming with us.”

For reasons that remain unclear, residents said they were not allowed to speak during Monday night’s council meeting.

“It was over in less than five minutes, and we no longer have the protection that we need here as citizens,” said Terral. “They did not represent us.”

Although action was taken by the council, there was no opportunity for public comment listed on the city council agenda.

“I am disgusted,” said Cromeans. “Chief and his people have kept this city safe, he made this town a great place to stay, now I’m worried, I’ll die here, I just don’t want it hurried up, and I don’t want my property messed with.”

One council member was sick and Cromeans believed the vote would have been 3-2 if that council member were present.

There were also residents at the meeting in support of the council’s decision who told KWTX not having a police department “wouldn’t make a difference,” and that Lott would fall in line with other Falls County communities like Chilton and Golinda which also don’t have police forces.

Falls County Sheriff Joe Lopez told KWTX Monday the council’s decision will have a definite impact on his agency, which had just finalized its own budget with the county earlier Monday.

Lopez said, had he known about Lott’s intentions sooner, he could have asked Falls County leaders for an extra position to help patrol the Lott area.

Lopez says FCSO serves a 400 mile area.

Despite the vote, residents say they’re not going to give up and will continue to fight for a city force.

“Our city council doesn’t represent us, this is unfair to the citizens who have lived here and are enjoying their golden years here,” said Cromeans. “This ain’t over, this can’t be over, this can’t be what our city is going to turn into.”

KWTX asked Hamilton for comment and he said to go through his attorney.

In a post shared on the City of Lott Police Department Facebook page, however, the department shared a photo of a pad-locked door.

“Directly after the meeting last night, the following attendees went to the PD and pad locked both doors to the PD: Mayor, her husband, city secretary, city works employee, one council member, and two constables,” the Facebook post states, “Appears to me we DON’T have until Noon to gather personal belongings and turn in gear.”

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