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Last week's decision to lay off one of the lieutenants in the Bluffton Police Department was needed to retain a patrol position and keep plans on track for the town's future Law Enforcement Center, said Police Chief David McAllister.
"In the economy we're in, we're all having to make some sacrifices," McAllister said. "It's unfortunate, but it's what we're all having to do, and that means were all going to have to work a little harder."
Town officials announced at last week's Town Council meeting that Lt. Katherine Sours had been laid off. Sours, who made about $75,000 a year with benefits as the department's patrol supervisor, will receive severance payments until July 1, McAllister said.
The money saved through the layoff will allow Bluffton to hire one patrol officer to replace an officer who left last month. Four other vacant patrol positions won't be filled because of budget cuts, he said.
"Town residents aren't going to notice any change in our services because of this staff reduction," McAllister said of Sours' layoff. "In fact, we'll have another officer on the streets because of this."
McAllister hopes the savings from the cut will allow him to stay on track with the design and planning for the Law Enforcement Center. Early designs for the center should be completed within 60 days, McAllister said.
The design-build team includes Choate Construction of Pooler, Ga., Thomas & Hutton Engineering of Savannah, and LS3P Associates of Charleston, according to Bob Fletcher, assistant town manager for engineering.
Town Councilman Charlie Wetmore said he believes the town can continue with the design for the center with the cuts made so far across the budget.
"We're going to have to tighten our belts in other areas, but it's something that is doable ..." he said. "The Police Department and other agencies throughout the town have shown they're willing to make the sacrifices necessary to move forward with some of these projects. I just hate, hate, hate to lose these individuals because of the economy."
At least eight town employees have been laid off due to the recession. Six were laid off in December, and Sours and assistant town manager Tim Bennett were cut last week.
Wetmore said he was optimistic about the future, but cautioned that if the economy stagnated or worsened, the Law Enforcement Center's plans could be delayed. That is something the council would need to discuss as the year progresses, he said.
Sours worked as the administrative lieutenant for nearly three years and helped the department get its national accreditation in February from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
McAllister said he hopes to rehire Sours if the economy and his budget improve. Sours said she would accept the position if it were available again.