Law enforcement support, can Denton County do better?

Arguably, the unincorporated areas of Denton County demographics have been shifting from rural to a more urban setting. Law enforcement assets have not kept pace with this population growth.

Denton County Law Enforcement, County Commissioners and County Judge, we can do better!

Denton County covers a very large area stretching from a point west of Ponder to Frisco and from a point north of Sanger to Southlake. This large area presents many diverse issues and challenges. The County Commissioners under Judge Mary Horn’s experienced leadership have attempted to meet these challenges. However, more needs to be done to support law enforcement.

The population of Denton County has almost doubled over the past 12 years to a little less than 800,000 residents. Much of this growth has been supported by the establishment of special taxing districts known as Fresh Water Supply Districts (FWSD). FWSD support land development and provide many services to these areas such as: water, sewage, code enforcement, road construction, road repair, etc. Ironically, these areas and residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the county.

In addition to these property taxes, many FWSD residents pay additional fees for separate fire and law enforcement support. FWSD’s, although they share some functions similar to a city, have legal limits. As an example, they can not establish a police force with enforcement authority and legalities. They depend on the county for their law enforcement support. Are county property tax dollars allocated effectively to support the law enforcement function? We can do better!

Although exact figures were unavailable from the county, the Denton County Sheriff has approximately 15 deputies to provide 24-7 patrol support to the county. That is approximately one deputy per every 50,000 residents. The goal for many cities is one police officer per every 1,000 residents. Intuitively, the support level needed is somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, the size of the sheriff’s patrol force has not grown proportionately to meet the demands of this population growth.

Lantana is one of these areas supported by FWSD’s. Although some of the Commissioners are adamantly against supporting FWSD’s, the districts are here, and they need support. FWSD’s oversee the development of unincorporated land that would otherwise not be developed. As an example, Lantana has increased the assessed value of land in Denton County by almost one billion dollars during the past twelve years. Accordingly, Denton County property tax income has increased by approximately $2.6 million per year. There are many other FWSD’s in the unincorporated areas that mirror this growth. Yet the Sheriff’s Office patrol personnel have not increased to keep pace with this population growth, the increase in property tax income, and the demands for law enforcement service.

The Sheriff is not at fault because he is limited to working within a restricted budget. The Sheriff’s Department needs additional budgetary support. He has been very innovative in developing initiatives that have shifted his limited assets to provide more appropriate support to the affected areas. However, the calls for support (CFS) have almost doubled over the past twelve years. It is reasonable to infer that where populations grow, crime will follow. We need to be prepared.  Although the Sheriff is responsible to address his needs with the County Judge and Commissioners Court, the court shares a responsibility to ensure the residents of Denton County are being provided appropriate law enforcement.

So, what is the answer to the need for additional law enforcement support? At a recent County Judge Candidate Forum this was addressed.

Candidate for re-election and current County Judge Horn felt that one answer to the issue would be having the FWSD’s contract with the Sheriff’s Department for service. This arrangement could cost FWSD residents an additional $400 to $500 per household per year. Her depth of experience in the county and working with FWSD’s has been extensive over the past twelve years.

Candidate Sherman Swartz expressed a practical big business view of this issue and a reasoned approach to solve it.

Candidate Paul Ruggiere appears to mirror Precinct 1 Commissioner Hugh Coleman’s disdain for FWSD’s and feels that they should pay for these services. Although Precinct 3 Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell doesn’t share the same disdain for FWSD’s, she does believe that the residents should also pay more for this service. They both highlighted that city residents pay city taxes for their services, and FWSD residents do not. But, FWSD residents also pay taxes to their districts and the districts are limited as to the type of services that they can legally finance and provide.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Andy Eads was a breath of fresh air. He understands the current tax burden of FWSD’s residents, feels the level of law enforcement issue needs to be addressed, understands that the FWSD’s provide services which help eliminate some county financial responsibility (i.e. road construction and maintenance), and that county budget adjustments should be accomplished accordingly, following a responsible evaluation.

Have county property taxes been used appropriately to support an effective level of law enforcement? This issue needs to become a Denton County priority and the answer involves USING CURRENT COUNTY PROPERTY TAX DOLLARS to better support a law enforcement personnel structure that is effective within Denton County.

The budget process for the Denton County has begun and we all can help! We can become better informed but we need to express our concerns to our Commissioners and the County Judge, and we need to VOTE. Let’s vote for those that are pragmatic, seasoned, are willing to work within the current tax base, and don’t want to raise your cost of living in Denton County. We need to do better, and we can.

Bob Baird is a Lantana resident and FWSD #6 board member.

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