Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell’s endgame of getting his shift deputies into “zones” — a plan that has worked successfully in other rural counties by decreasing reply times and increasing coverage areas — is a solid work in progress that has taken a step forward with a county-approved federal grant aimed at hiring new officers and boosting policing capacities.

Within current resources, Howell would be hard-pressed to proceed with such a plan. In the past 15 years, calls for services have escalated from about 5,000 annually to more than 14,000 in 2019 — with no increase in actual road deputy patrols during that period. With the grant, the sheriff will be able to add four new officers, increasing shift numbers by the same investment county commissioners authorized in grant matching funds — 25 percent.

The downside to the investment is that the grant ends in three years, and the county will then have to fund the additional patrols in full — a gap could be partially addressed by incremental tax increases during the period, the sheriff has suggested.

While no one is a fan of raising taxes, most of us are fans of increased and competent community policing. Going forward then, we applaud our commissioners for green-lighting the new deputy hires, but we caution them to being searching today — not 35 months from now — for ways to judiciously fund our sheriff’s office in not only the increased staffing, but by working with Howell to creatively and efficiently make our community safer.

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