(08/27/2011)
By Kathryn Gregory
www.wvgazette.com

Charleston, W.Va. - The State Police may be looking to close various detachments around the state, including the Grantsville Detachment in Calhoun County, if the agency is not able to recoup $250,000 that was taken out of its budget in 2009.

The agency has also talked about possibly consolidating the Calhoun and Clay county detachments into a new location in Big Otter off Interstate 79.

Any decision regarding possible detachment closings or consolidation is a long way off, though, said State Police Col. C.R. "Jay" Smithers, but the department "has to do something," to get out of a financial fix.

The proposal to shut down detachments came after a 2009 study encouraged the State Police to close 21 detachments as a way to save money and run a more cost effective department. Then-Gov. Joe Manchin mandated 4 percent cuts across the board for state agencies to keep the state economically sound, Smithers said.

Currently, there are about 60 detachments across the state.

During the legislative session that year, almost $250,000 -- which would have paid the leases on the 21 detachments -- was removed from the State Police budget. The detachments were not shut down, however, after public outcry about police coverage in rural areas.

Now two years later, "we have almost $250,000 that was never placed back into our budget," Smithers said, "and we're still leasing.

"At this point, we have to find a way to get the money for the facilities that we lease back in to the budget or we will strongly consider closing some detachments."

As a possible future option, Smithers said the State Police has looked into property at Big Otter as a possible site for a combined Calhoun and Clay detachment.

"Strategically, this would be an area where we think we could combine resources into one detachment," he said. "But we're a long way off thinking about that."

Troopers at the Grantsville Detachment said they could not comment on the rumors of possible closure or consolidation, saying that decisions about the location or fate of the detachment weren't made at the local level.

The rent at that location is about $600 a month or $7,200 a year.

Calhoun County Commissioner Robert Weaver, who also runs the news website hurherald.com, previously reported on the possible consolidation and said that commissioners were opposed to the idea, citing a possible increase in response time to calls in Calhoun County and costs to officers.

See related Hur Herald stories STATE POLICE SAYS CALHOUN DETACHMENT MAY BE ON BLOCK FOR CLOSURE

STATE POLICE COULD BE PULLING CALHOUN DETACHMENT - Agency Won't Confirm-Deny

Smithers, however, disagrees that a consolidation would decrease the level of service from troopers.

"When you combine detachments, you are pooling resources and you end up with better coverage," the colonel said. "But obviously it takes some strong supervision to make sure folks are properly deployed so each area is covered."

Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, who sent an inquiry to Smithers on behalf of the Calhoun County Commission about the possible closure and subsequent consolidation with Clay County, said ensuring the public safety of citizens is paramount.

"We're already operating with a reduced number of troopers as it is and if we close detachments, the response time in smaller counties that don't have access to a widespread sheriff's department or a large city municipality are going to be left without adequate coverage," Kessler said.

"It's important that detachments stay open," Kessler said. "We seem to have money for everything else, and public safety is being left by the wayside."

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.

www.wvgazette.com


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