CAPE CARTERET —Draco, the soon-to-be K-9 officer in the town’s police department, still has a few months of training left before he gets to work.
But the professional future of the dog, who is training with his handler, Sgt. David Walden, at Creative K-9 LLC in Maysville, came into question last week during the Cape Carteret board’s budget work session Thursday on the GoToMeeting platform.
Commissioner Steve Martin raised the issue, noting Town Manager Zach Steffey’s draft budget for fiscal year 2020-21, which will begin Wednesday, July 1, included about $6,000 for the canine officer program.
“When we approved the program (in October) we were told that his upkeep and training would be paid for,” Mr. Martin said. “Now we have a $6,000 line item.”
Police Chief Bill McKinney responded that the item could be reduced.
“Most of the expense is behind us,” he said, although there are a few months of training left at $200 per month. The chief added that a local veterinarian’s office, Island Pet Veterinary Hospital, is paying for Draco’s veterinary care, but is charging the town at cost for any medicines and vaccines the dog needs.
In addition, the chief said, food for the dog is being supplied free by Petsense in Cape Carteret. Also, donations paid for a $4,000 cage for Draco in Sgt. Walton’s patrol car.
Sandy Favreau, the town’s finance director, said during the session that so far, all but about $250 in Draco-related expenses have been covered by donations. The dog, a German Shepherd, was purchased with grant money.
Mr. Steffey said the $6,000 line item would be “seriously” adjusted.
But Mr. Martin was not sure the K-9 officer was a good investment.
Chief McKinney said the whole effort has been worthwhile.
“When he gets in action, you will see him on the news,” he said. “There will be more big drug enforcement actions” as a result of the dog’s efforts at traffic stops.
Draco is not being trained to detect marijuana, as a result of changes in marijuana laws in some states.
Chief McKinney said Draco has already been beneficial to the town in terms of increasing interaction with residents, especially children, who love seeing him at special events.
Commissioner Mike King noted during the budget session that he did not voted for the K-9 program and still didn’t think it was needed.
Mr. Martin also wondered if the dog would be available when Sgt. Walden is off duty.
Chief McKinney said when Draco is needed for an investigation, Sgt. Walden would be called in. The dog only works with his designated and trained handler.
The board did not take a vote on the program or any other specific budget item during the work session but will hold another session Monday, June 1.
Island Pet is seeking town approval for its site plan for a new location behind Carteret Crossing Shopping Center off Highway 24, but Mr. Steffey said Tuesday the donation of veterinary services has no bearing on the plan’s consideration, which is expected during a special GoToMeeting board session Friday at 10 a.m.
There was a public hearing on the plan Monday night and no one voiced opposition.
Commissioners had to delay the vote at least 24 hours because of special rules the state General Assembly recently adopted regarding decisions after virtual public hearings.
“Island Pet Veterinary Hospital is one of many local businesses that have made donations or provided discounted services to assist in the costs of the CCPD K-9 program,” Mr. Steffey said Tuesday in an email. Commissioners, he added, address “each issue as it comes before them in a fair and unbiased manner. The generosity of a local business to support CCPD’s efforts to further enhance their capabilities … has absolutely no bearing on the decision-making process,”
He said Island Pet’s offer of discounted services took place “long before any application for the commercial site plan … was submitted to the Town and these services along with any of the other donated services received from other local business are in no way conditioned upon the approval of any current or future projects.”
The planning board first looked at the plan in January. The vet hospital made the offer to donate care in fall of 2019.
Mr. Steffey said town elected and appointed officials don’t derive any personal or financial gain from donations to the K-9 program or the approval of the plan for Island Pet.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.