by JEN BIUNDO
Former Buda Patrol Chief Bo Kidd will return to his role as top law enforcement official in Buda, city officials announced this week. But this time around, Kidd will be leading the newly created Buda Police Department.
“If we have the same support we did when we started the Buda Patrol, we’re going to do great things, I have no doubt,” Kidd said.
As a quiet bedroom community with a population of about 6,000, Buda sees little in the way of violent crimes. But property crimes, especially vehicle break-ins, have become more common in recent years and some citizens have clamored in council meetings for more law enforcement officials patrolling the streets.
Last August, recently-appointed Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff made the controversial move to demote Kidd, Ratliff’s former political opponent, from the position of chief of the Buda Patrol without consulting with the city.
Buda councilmembers responded by terminating their contract with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office for dedicated law enforcement services following the required nine-month notification period and exploring the option of establishing a homegrown police force.
The city had negotiated the county contract in early 2007 with former sheriff Allen Bridges, who died of a heart attack in December of 2008.
Kidd, who will start as police chief on April 1 with a salary of $70,000 plus regular employee benefits, will be charged with building the department from the ground up, a task he hopes to accomplish in as little as four months.
“We look forward to the challenge and we think we’ll have the people in place to get it done,” said Buda City Manager Kenneth Williams.
With the county contract expiring in April, city officials are negotiating with the sheriff’s office to extend law enforcement coverage until the Buda Police Department is up and running. The county may also fill in some gaps if the city can’t afford to hire officers for 24 hour coverage.
It’s still unclear how much the new police department will cost the city, Williams said, with the final price tag depending on the size of the staff.
“For the first year there will be some startup costs,” Williams said. “As far as operational costs, my goal is to stay somewhere close to what we’re spending now.”
This year Buda budgeted $724,000 for the contract services with the county, which included eight officers patrolling the city. In a cost analysis presented to councilmembers last fall, Williams said that costs would hit about $875,000 for eight officers, $725,000 for six officers, or $600,000 for four officers.
“It’s one thing to have a mission, but you have to deal with the reality too,” Kidd said. “I would expect there to be some growing pains and things to be tight in the formative years. One thing we need to make certain is we don’t provide less than the citizens are currently getting.”
City officials say they hope the county will agree to foot the bill for dispatching services, as they did in the early days of the city of Kyle’s police department. But some local residents have worried that the city is underestimating the price tag for operating a homegrown police force.
The city of Kyle, with a current population nearing 30,000, budgeted $2.9 million this year for the 25 officers in its police force, with an additional $420,000 for dispatching and support personnel. Kyle officials signed the ordinance creating their municipal police force in 1975.
Pending council approval, the new police department will occupy the 7,500-square-foot building directly behind City Hall at the corner of Railroad and Houston streets, sharing the space with other city departments including engineering, planning and parks. The city purchased the building in late 2007 for a cost of $450,000, well above its appraised value of $219,000.
As of press time Tuesday night, the council was scheduled to debate and possibly approve about $260,000 worth of renovations to the Houston Street building, estimated to be completed in July.
“My mission will be to get a department up and running to coincide with that,” Kidd said.
The city has also hired Ricky Conner to be Kidd’s second in command. Conner, currently the emergency management coordinator for Angelina County, has 25 years of law enforcement experience with the Angelina County Sheriff’s Department and Diboll Police Department. Williams is the former city manager of Diboll.
Kidd, who has 15 years experience with the county and currently serves in the narcotics division, said he’s glad to be coming back to Buda.
“I was really taken by the reception we got when we went over there as Buda Patrol,” Kidd said. “The greatest thing about Buda for me was the people, the citizens, city staff and council.”
Jen Biundo is managing editor of the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the Mercury.