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State funds Forest Park police presence at farmers market

State Farmers Market attracts thousands of customers from all over Georgia. The 160-acre facility is being served and protected by Forest Park Police Department. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

State Farmers Market attracts thousands of customers from all over Georgia. The 160-acre facility is being served and protected by Forest Park Police Department. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Forest Park Police Chief Dwayne Hobbs

FOREST PARK — Council members voted Monday to accept nearly half a million dollars to fund police presence at State Farmers Market.

The city agreed in July to provide officers to the 160-acre wholesale and retail center just off Interstate 75 in Forest Park for the first time in 25 years. During that time, the state funded its own police department.

Forest Park police Maj. Chris Matson told council members that the $460,470 state appropriation will fund four officers, equipment, training, seminars, education incentives and weapons and ammunition.

Matson said cars have been furnished but they have to be redecaled to reflect the Forest Park Police Department.

More than half the money, about $233,000, will pay for overtime, he said.

“The officers come from our staff so the bulk of the money is to cover overtime,” Matson said. “We haven’t had time to hire extra officers just for that location.”

Mayor David Lockhart said the partnership is a win-win for the city.

“It typically costs 1.8 to 1.9 times the hourly wage to fund an employee,” he said. “If your staff is completely paid with overtime, that’s only 1.5 times. If we stay under what they’ve given us, we get to keep it.”

Police officers have been mostly well-received by vendors, he said.

“There is a bit of a learning curve but most are happy to see us,” Matson said. “But the outlook is very positive.”

Forest Park police Chief Dwayne Hobbs said in July the market police department hasn’t always been stable.

“When I started out here 40 years ago, we provided police services,” he said during the summer. “In the late ’80s, they created their own department. That didn’t work out so well for them.”

However, the market police weren’t willing to make a change, he said. In fact, Hobbs said his department made five or six proposals over 20 years that were rejected by state officials.

The state will lease the police headquarters at the market to the city for $1 a year on an annual basis, which Hobbs said will be used as a substation.

There are at least 126 businesses inside the market, including the popular Oakwood Cafe. The 53-year-old market is open 24 hours a day, 364 days a year, closing only for Christmas Day.

The Department of Agriculture is looking at spending about $300,000 to $400,000 for improvements and upgrades, with a 40-year plan to easily spend $1 billion for an overhaul of the market.

Matthew Kulinski, deputy director of marketing for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, said the market generates about $7 million in revenue annually and only needs about half that amount to operate.