MOUNT AIRY — Although town officials have not yet decided whether to move forward with a Mount Airy police force, the results of a meeting with state police representatives might soon change this.
A few town leaders met with select Maryland State Police troopers last week about the possibility of discontinuing the Mount Airy Resident Trooper Program, the town's current police force, because of rising costs, according to Mayor Pat Rockinberg.
"We did ask them if there was anything they could do regarding the price," Rockinberg said. "They're reviewing it, and we'll see what happens."
The Mount Airy Resident Trooper Program, which is made up of five Maryland State Police troopers assigned to the municipality, has become the town's No. 1 expense, at $900,998 for fiscal year 2016.
A state police official who attended the meeting declined to comment, but Sgt. Marc Black, a spokesman for the agency, said it was unlikely the price would be reduced.
"The price can't really be negotiated. It's set up by federal guidelines," he said, adding that certain administrative fees that must be charged are "beyond our control."
Black said Rockinberg will likely be informed of the official price for the Mount Airy Resident Trooper Program for FY16 by July 1, when the fiscal year begins for the state.
"I certainly understand, but I have to do what's best for the taxpayers of Mount Airy. … Public safety is first and foremost on our minds, but we believe we can provide public safety at a cheaper cost," Rockinberg said.
Councilman Ken Phebus, who attended the meeting with Rockinberg, agreed.
"We've had a good relationship with state police, they've done a great job," Phebus said. "We're not going to get any better-trained people than state police, but costs are going up. That's the driving force behind it."
As the town considers moving away from the resident trooper program, all options remain open, including the possibility that Mount Airy does not build its own police agency, according to Phebus.
"One option would be to not have a police department, eliminate it entirely and rely on" the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and state police just as other towns in Frederick County do, Phebus said.
"What would happen if we do not have a police department? We would get the same protection as everyone else," he said.
Phebus said it's likely Mount Airy will make a decision on whether to move forward with a town police force before the end of the year.
"In the next year or two a decision will have to be made one way or another,' Phebus said.