A North Carolina Town Asks Why $14 Million is Being Spent on Police When So Much More is Needed

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May 13, 2024

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(STATESVILLE, N.C.) —Walking along the end of S. Center St. through Shelton Ave. there’s a cool breeze. The smells of hot combs, fried chicken, and fish infiltrate the air as you walk through the Southside of Statesville. This is home to most of the Black community and where most of the town’s Black businesses are located, including Rutledge and Bigham Mortuary, Anointed Hands Beauty Salon, and Lewis Taxi Service.

On a typical day, you will see people walking from the hair salon to the beauty supply store in roller sets or conditioning caps. People are outside their homes sitting on their porches listening to music, laughing, and maybe having a drink after work. There are two locally owned restaurants on this side of town: Phifer’s Chicken and BBQ and Skinner’s Seafood. The neighborhoods that make up this part of Statesville are Garfield, The Flat, Rabbit Town, and “The Southside.” 

Joe Phifer’s Chicken and BBQ is a beloved Southside staple.
[Credit: Sydney Brianna]

Although people seem to enjoy their everyday routines, substantial upkeep is needed in the Southside community. Streets need repaving, storefronts need paint and redevelopment. Sidewalks are in such disrepair that residents sometimes need to walk in the middle of the road to get to their next location. 

Statesville’s 2023-2024 budget is about $164.1 million. Public safety, including police and fire, accounts for $25.8 million while funds for cultural and recreation come to about $7.7 million.  Police spending alone exceeds $14 million this year including funds for a new speed scanner, K-9 police vehicles, and other police cars. 

Looking at those numbers raises questions as to how Statesville tax dollars are allocated. The Southside is in need of investment and rejuvenation. Many residents and business owners of the South Side spoke to The Click about what they hoped to see for the future. Much of it is geared towards youth development and beautification.

The demographics of Statesville

For Southside residents, there is little — no nearby groceries for fresh produce and retail stores are sparse in this car-centric city. Homes are boarded up, and businesses have moved or closed their doors.  Meanwhile, a large portion of the city’s budget goes into policing.  This leaves many local residents feeling underserved and over-observed. 

According to Neighborhoodscout South Statesville and neighboring Gardnel Bagnel are two of the lowest-earning communities in America, lower than 91.9 percent of neighborhoods within the United States. Almost 70% percent of children in these areas are low-income and 25.9 percent are living below the poverty line. More than 20% percent of these households are run by single mothers; a higher percentage than 97% of American neighborhoods.

Nellie Work, who taught in Statesville schools for 40 years, questions the city’s spending priorities.
[Credit: Sydney Brianna]

Nellie Work, 89, a longtime community member and former school teacher of 40 years for the Statesville school system is not happy with the spending gap.  “Children used to run up and down these streets and now you hardly see any. The pool has closed and there aren’t any community programs. We are all citizens of Statesville and whatever is done for one should be done for the other.”

Deanna Burton, owner of Anointed Hands Beauty Salon, said, “For years they said they would be remodeling South Statesville and from a business standpoint the fire department was what they chose to start with first. Could they have chosen to start with housing? They chose not to. I didn’t know South Statesville looked that bad,” said Burton who recently drove through the residential areas near her salon.  “I was shocked. The ones that cannot afford to stay will be gone and if they cannot afford to remodel their homes in accordance with the city they will be pushed out.”

In early April, The City of Statesville announced the expansion of the police department that sits along S. Center Street and S. Tradd St. Public parking for those sites has closed since May 1 to prepare for demolition.  

Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh told the Greater Statesville Commerce in an interview two years ago that one of his number one priorities is making sure people feel good about where they live.

Asked by The Click how he thinks those living in South Statesville feel about their homes and what they see in their communities every day, he said, “I try to be very receptive. I don’t and I can’t solve everyone’s problems. But if you’ve got a problem, I can explain to you how it can possibly be solved, and how that might take place and it is important that I can engage with people on their terms.”

When asked about the budget for the police department, Kutteh said that the Statesville police department gets new police cars every year and rotates equipment often. Looking further into the City of Statesville there were 9 new vehicles purchased for this year costing an average of $77,000 each. 

The Statesville’s Police Department did not return calls seeking comment about the budget. 

Statesville’s citizens and government officials share their thoughts

Dwight Mumford, a 26-year-old resident said, “There is nothing in Statesville to do and look forward to to keep from stirring crime. South Side is looked down upon and instead of giving police and fire, pour it into the communities to make it safer for youth and families” 

One of the safe havens in this community is Phifer’s Hot Wings and BBQ a Black-owned business that has been operating since 1995. Phifer’s sits in the heart of the Southside community and has been the primary food source for that side of town as they are walking distance from most community members’ homes. Synetta Raye, who owns Phifer’s with her husband Ted, thinks the city could do more to invest in the neighborhood.  “I definitely think we need a grocery store, you know, which we did at one time when we first started the business. I like to see sidewalks, put down sidewalks where people can feel safe because sometimes they have to walk very close to the curb on the street,” she said.

Lisa Pearson, the councilwoman for Statesville’s Ward 6 which covers the Southside, explained that the city is focused on crime prevention and also reinvestment in the community.  “Money going to the police department has really, really kept that crime rate on this side of town down. Training officers to be more personable with their community and cameras on the Southside and places that we know are more crime-ridden.” 

“A five-year plan is to improve South Statesville to expand and improve the police department. We are trying to get a grant for Shelton Ave. to get sidewalks on that side of town and the beautification of that area.”

Police spending alone exceeds $14 million this year including funds for a new speed scanner, K-9 police vehicles, and other police cars. 
[Credit: Sydney Brianna]

“I feel like if the government were to put more money into activities and places for us to spend time, they wouldn’t feel like it was as crime-ridden. The fact that our city spends more on police is frightening. Statesville looks at us as criminals instead of citizens,” said 26-year-old Genae Chambers, who was raised in the Southside and now has a family of her own.  

New things are coming to Statesville

Good things are happening in Stateville, too. A new skate park is opening on June 8. 

The other staple of The Southside is Ralph L. Bentley Recreation Center, which opened in January 1996. For almost 30 years the Bentley Center has served the community giving young people a place to go after school or on the weekends. With a splash pad, playground, indoor workout equipment, and indoor basketball court the Bentley has served their community with the utmost pride. 

“I wish it could be more offered to the children at the Bentley Center. We do have the splash pad, but how there used to be a swimming pool at Grace Park I wish there was more expansion to the Bentley Center,” Raye said.

“We are aiming for the construction of a teen center, they want more things to do and people their age to do it with, and in the next month we will be opening a skate park for fellow skaters to enjoy,” Kutteh said. 

“I’m looking to the future,” Burton, the salon owner said., “They’re putting that money there for gentrification. We knew something was coming, we just didn’t know what exactly it was. They had been saying for years that they would restructure South Statesville.” 

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