Chief Hutton says ‘We have a very safe community’

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The Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
In February 2013 Hurlock Police Officer Davonta Watford saved the life of a kindergarten student at Hurlock Elementary School who was choking. At the recent Hurlock Town Council meeting Mayor Spratt noted that after this past Christmas Pfc. Watford visited the youngster at school with gifts, including a new bicycle, clothing, and some toys for her. He has maintained contact with the child and her family and was asked to serve as her godfather. The Mayor said, “Davonta and his wife have gone above and beyond” and awarded him the “Above and Beyond” trophy for exceeding his duties as a police officer and being a positive role model in the lives of Hurlock children.

HURLOCK — Police Chief Les Hutton presented his department’s 2014 annual report at the March 9 Hurlock Council meeting. He noted that breaking and entering cases dropped from 16 to 7 in 2014. Thefts increased from 26 to 48. The chief explained that shoplifting from “quick shops” was the biggest reason for the increase. It is now under control, he added, and is dropping off quite considerably. There were no murders or robberies, and assaults, mostly “domestics,” stayed the same. He emphasized it may look like “they’re fighting all over Hurlock, but they’re not. They’re fighting in their houses. For a town our size I’m very pleased with the numbers . . . We have a very safe community.” In 2014 an officer was assigned to the Sheriff’s department and Cambridge City Police for narcotic investigations. To reduce violent crime by prior offenders the state offers a Safe Street initiative. Chief Hutton explained that the state-funded Safe Streets program pays for additional officers in the field.

Chief Hutton noted, “Just tonight one of my officers is going door-to-door” to survey the citizens in Rev. Cephas’ district. “It’s more one-on-one so we can gauge where we stand and get a feel for what we need to be doing. Initially we were given $5,000 (for the initiative) and the Rev. Cephas brought it to their attention they should give us $5,000 more. Somebody was listening.” The department received $10,000.

Calls for service have risen because Chief Hutton encourages officers to be proactive by initiating calls and responding to potential criminal activity.  Chief Hutton noted he is “fortunate to have the support of the Mayor and Council and not every police department has that luxury.”

There’s been quite a bit of talk about natural gas and the Mayor said “there are still questions” about it. “I’m going to explain it one more time. There is nobody that doesn’t want natural gas in Hurlock.” She noted the town sent over 700 survey letters to businesses and residents. Chesapeake Utilities said they received “maybe 70 (survey) responses.” Ms. Spratt said the company will report the results of their survey study at a future town meeting and reiterate the pros and cons of natural gas. She added, “They’re in business and if they don’t see a profit margin they won’t stick their necks out and do something that’s not profitable to them.”

At the Feb. 9 Council meeting Town Attorney Robert Merriken detailed the federally-required changes in floodplain management. The major difference between the old and new ordinances is that construction of new accessory structures within a town’s floodplain is now limited to not more than 300 sq. ft. The previous limit was 600 sq. ft.

On Feb. 9 the Council asked Mr. Merriken to submit Ord. 2015-4 for approval based on handwritten notes by a state official that stated FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will not approve accessory structures larger than 600 sq. ft. unless the community documents the need for it. The council agreed to send the ordinance based on his margin notes which differed from the new regulation. It was not accepted.

An amended version with the 300 sq. ft. limit will be submitted.     After much discussion to untangle procedural problems that arose from introducing and voting for an “emergency” ordinance that also contained an amendment, the council voted to introduce the new ordinance on the 9th and vote for its approval at the next meeting on March 23. However, because the deadline for submission is March 16 flood plain residences cannot renew their flood insurance in the interim. There is one residence in Hurlock’s flood plain.

Councilman Earl Murphy heads the Veterans’ Memorial Park committee. He has actively worked on the project for the past 8 years. Frustration over the inability to bring the project to fruition was evident when he said, “We’ve talked for a year about various locations for the memorial” but have not reached a conclusive decision.” He explained that the preliminary design will be adjusted to fit the dimensions of any agreed upon property.

A 40-minute discussion involved three motions: First, Mr. Murphy moved that any real property acquired by the town should be given consideration by the Council for the memorial. That motion was withdrawn. Second, Mr. Murphy moved that 202 S. Main St., a vacant property, be considered for the memorial. After discussion noting the lot is too narrow, too close to other residences, input is required from the police department and State Highway Administration; and, neighborhood residents should be considered, the vote was taken. The motion died.

Third, Mr. Murphy’s re-introduction of his original motion using the word “priority” rather than “consideration” was unanimously approved.

Other suggestions included an area near the ballfield and a lot owned by and adjacent to the American Legion Post 243. The Mayor will speak to county officials about the county-owned ballfield property and resident Jack Lewis will consult for a second time with Legion officers. Chief Hutton recommended a site “off of a state road” to avoid potentially long delays from State Highway Administration requirements.

Councilman Parker Durham announced plans to move to Salisbury and his intention to resign his Council post at the next Council meeting. He praised his neighbors, local businesses, the police department, and all those who made his 25-year stay in Hurlock so special. “I’m going to miss being here,” he said.

Councilman Cephas, who frequently wrangled with Councilman Parker, said, “I’m going to miss fussing with you … I appreciate you for having strong positions and I wish you Godspeed, my friend.”

The procedure for filling vacancies as stated in the Town Charter requires the Council by unanimous vote to appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the unexpired term. A 2011 addendum allows the Council to appoint a replacement by majority vote if Council members cannot agree on a replacement within two consecutive regular meetings.

Councilman Cephas announced that Ministers & Citizens will host a food and clothing giveaway on March 27 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The February giveaway drew 276 people from Hurlock and surrounding areas.

The Council moved to executive session for a personnel matter regarding a volunteer under consideration for a contractor designation.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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