When the Payson Town Council voted during a June 22 meeting to offer police services to the town of Star Valley for the upcoming fiscal year, we were stunned.
At first our reaction was to feel protective of the Payson Police Department and worry about their stress levels and ability to take on this extra work load.
For months prior to the council action we wrote stories about the struggles of the Payson Police Department. Non-competitive wages have made it difficult for the department to fill empty positions.
In the May 26 article, "Police department struggles to fill 3 positions," Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said he had three openings and only one applicant, despite the fact they were offering a $2,000 signing bonus. Since then, one of the positions has been filled and that officer is currently in training.
But in the same article, Gartner went on to say he had six officers scheduled to retire who would need to be replaced.
As a solution to the hiring crisis, the police department started a one year local academy to train people who have an interest in law enforcement and ties to Payson. But the academy is barely off the ground and won't be graduating its first class for another year.
Instead of helping the Payson Police Department through this transition, the new law enforcement contract will put even more pressure on an already strained force.
Tonight, the Star Valley Council will vote on its 2006-2007 budget, which includes $100,000 for services from the Payson Police Department.
According to Gartner, $100,000 will be used to pay overtime for officers. With new coverage area come the "hidden costs" of time it takes for paperwork, strain on equipment, on top of the hourly labor expense.
"It adds up to $500,000 pretty quickly," Gartner said. "Star Valley is comfortable with the fact that we will patrol as best we can.
"(The officers) are feeling stressed with the added workload, but in due time they will become comfortable that it exists."
We believe helping Star Valley was the right thing to do, but over the next year, we would like to see the Star Valley Council change its thinking about police services.
Star Valley should use this year to develop its own police force.
This direction will not only ease expectations on Payson police, but it will also mean faster response times for Star Valley residents.
While we believe in being good neighbors, but it goes both ways.
Ultimately, Payson police services belong in Payson.
Residents shouldn't have to worry about response times in their own town because local police are spread thin in a neighboring community.