BLUE MOUND, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - The police chief in Blue Mound resigned abruptly Thursday night after saying he believed city leaders wanted to defund the police department.
Residents gasped as Dusty Steele left the podium during a public hearing on the city budget, took off his badge, and put it down in front of Mayor Darlene Copeland.
The decision came as city leaders were set to trim the police budget for the second straight year. While Copeland defended the cuts as just business, and necessary during a budget crunch, Steele said he believed the reductions were being done in the spirit of defunding the police.
"We have a very limited budget for equipment and necessary things that we need," he said.
Steele said he had been pushing for pay raises for officers, with other agencies now adding signing bonuses and quick climbs to high salaries. Blue Mound's proposed budget however kept salaries flat, and took funding for the 12-person department under $1 million, more than $200,000 lower than it was in 2021. City leaders were also pursuing outsourcing dispatching to a neighboring community to cut expenses further.
On Wednesday, the police department Facebook page highlighted an appearance by Governor Greg Abbott in Fort Worth, where he backed law enforcement funding.
Thursday morning, another post made a more direct call for residents to show up to the public hearing and support the department's funding needs. Several residents did appear, speaking in support of the job Steele had done since taking over in 2019, pushing out drug houses and a game room. Others were concerned outsourcing dispatching could lead to longer wait times for calls to be answered.
The savings were a necessity though according to Copeland, who responded to the department's social media posts by reading a statement after she called the meeting to order.
"There has been no discussion whatsoever about defunding the police department," she said. "Not one single word."
Rather, she explained, despite property value increases the last two years, revenue for the small city is at a standstill. Landlocked between Fort Worth and Saginaw, Blue Mound will see less than $1,000 in tax revenue from new development this year. The police department accounts for more than half of the city's general fund budget, and city leaders were already looking at about a $150,000 shortfall.
Both Copeland and Steele left the door open slightly Thursday evening to a reconciliation. City leaders never approved the budget as planned after Steele's resignation, and plan to meet next week to try again.
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