Marfa Police Department Faces Budget Axe

MARFA - There is a battle brewing in Marfa over the city's budget and the Police Department.

Mayor Dan Dunlap is proposing to lower water rates for residents, but to do that the city will have to get rid of the Police Department.

"While I was campaigning for my second term, one of the things I heard very frequently from the people was the water rates were too high, their lawns were dying, they couldn't afford to water their lawns and were afraid their trees would die.  I began to look at this budget as a way to reduce our utility rates," Marfa Mayor Dan Dunlap said.

But it's not that part of the plan that causing the debate.

Mayor Dunlap says having multiple layers of law enforcement in the city, including police and the Sheriff's Department, all performing the same job is excessive. He thinks doing away with the police department and bringing in two Sheriff's Deputies in its place can get the job done all while saving thousands of dollars.

"The Sheriff's Deptarment has made us a very good offer," Dunlap said. "Two deputies, furnished with vehicles, at a rate that is much less than we were currently paying to maintain our own police force."

Marfa Police Chief J.D. Wilbourn doesn't see it quite the same way. He says the city is planning to cut the police department, but add more city employees in other areas.

In the more than two years he's been in office Chief Wilbourn says there's been a significant decrease in the crime rate. He wonders why the mayor wants to do away with a department that's had such a positive effect on the city.

According to an article in The Big Bend Sentinel, Chief Wilbourn could be fired by the Marfa City Council at their August 27th meeting.

The article cites a lack of confidence, incompetency, curruption and misconduct in office.

Mayor Dunlap says that has nothing to do with his proposal.

"This is an issue that is between the City Council, the City Administrator and the Police Chief.   My budget proposal was already on the table. It's unaffected whether he's the Police Chief or someone else is the Police Chief. That position won't be funded if the proposal goes through, Mayor Dunlap said.

Chief Wilbourne says if this truly was a budget issue, the City Council would have gotten rid of hid department long ago.

NewsWest9 reported back in June that Chief Wilbourn filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint against the City of Marfa on ethnic descrimination. Wilbourn claims he was not given a raise on an equal basis with Hispanic employees.

NewsWest9 will continue to follow this story as it develops.