A recently purchased police cruiser sits near Unicoi Town Hall. According to Mayor Johnny Lynch, the cruiser is ready for duty when the town hires a police chief. The only changes that need to be made are new decals. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Town of Unicoi officials are moving forward with their plan to establish a police force.

According to Mayor Johnny Lynch, the town is in the process of interviewing potential candidates for police chief at an annual salary of $40,000. The deadline to apply was July 31.

“We hope to make a decision by the middle of August,” Lynch said. “Rex Barton with (the Municipal Technical Advisory Service) will guide us through the process.”

Lynch also reported that the police cruiser has been purchased and is equipped.

“Of course we need a new paint job or decals with the Town of Unicoi on it,” Lynch said.

The Town of Unicoi voted 4-1 during its July 15 BMA meeting to approve a resolution to create the police department. Lynch, Vice Mayor Doug Hopson, Alderwoman Wanda Radford and Alderman Jeff Linville voted to approve the resolution following a motion from Linville and a second by Hopson. Alderwoman Kathy Bullen was the sole vote against the resolution.

The Town of Unicoi budgeted $101,928 to fund the full-time police officer, a cruiser and equipment for the town in the proposed 2019-20 budget.

According to Bullen, the money spent on hiring one officer, could have gone to supporting the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

“I believe the money the town is investing into a one-man police force would be better spent supporting our sheriff’s department,” Bullen said. “If our town had been able to build meaningful relationships with other agencies in the county, the whole police department idea would most likely never had been considered.”

Lynch disagreed with Bullen.

“We have discussed this with MTAS for the last three or four years; it has been on our long-range plans for several years now,” Lynch said.

According to Lynch, the officer will be working as a code enforcer as well as a regular patrolman.

“We need an officer to work as a code enforcer, and our officer will be working closely with the sheriff’s department, but will also be enforcing code violations and that is important to the town,” Lynch said. “This officer will be a law enforcement officer, just like the Town of Erwin’s police department and the sheriff’s deputies, not just a code violation officer.”

Bullen argues that the $101,928 price tag to enforce codes is steep.

“It’s a mighty price to pay for someone to go around telling the citizens of the Town of Unicoi that they need to clean their properties up and then issuing a fine if they refuse,” Bullen said.

According to Lynch, the Town of Unicoi could have their police chief patrolling before the end of the year.