The Star Valley Council has asked town staff to look into a two-year extension of its contract with Payson to provide police protection -- but its neighbor has to first decide whether the town is losing its shirt on the present arrangement.
The issue arose at the last Star Valley council meeting, with an agenda item seeking money to remodel a garage near town hall to house a police chief, several officers and the administrative staff.
Star Valley police calls
Just released figures on police calls suggest that so far policing Star Valley
has involved three of four calls day, but almost no serious crimes.
The report covers the period from July 07 to May of 08. The 1,468 calls have varied from a low of 97 in November of 2007 to a high of 154 in February of 2008.
Not a single call involved rape, murder or robbery. Other categories in the course of 11 months include:• Assault: 8• Burglary: 13• Theft: 33• Alarms: 29• Animal calls/bites: 48• Criminal damage: 24• Juvenile Disturbance: 26• Disturbances: 30• Noise disturbance: 27• Non-injury accident: 15• Order of protection: 14• Reckless driving: 17• Traffic stops: 126• Suspicious person: 133• Threatening 15• Welfare check: 26
Town Manager Vito Tedeschi asked the council for $29,000 to draw up plans to remodel the leased garage to house the town's proposed police department starting in April 2009 -- when the current contract with Payson expires.
However, several council members questioned whether the town shouldn't try to convince Payson to extend its current contract before spending money on remodeling the building. The council ultimately decided to seek bids on the remodeling, but not to go forward until Tedeschi can report back on whether Payson would be willing to negotiate an extension.
Tedeschi said he'd had some preliminary conversations with Payson Police Chief Don Engler, who suggested he might support an extension of the current contract with a 5 percent cost increase.
The present $260,000 annual contract connects anyone who calls for police assistance to the Payson Police Department, which then dispatches an officer to the neighboring town when called, with only minimal patrolling.
The contract with Star Valley spurred heated debate and a 4-3 vote of the Payson Council when it was first approved in May of 2007.
At that time, several estimates suggested that it could cost Payson twice as much to provide services as Star Valley was willing to pay.
In order to ensure it had enough officers to provide service, Payson added two officers along with the cars and equipment needed to support them. Those officers respond to calls in Star Valley, but also patrol Payson.
Engler estimated that the salary, benefits and equipment for a single officer on patrol totaled about $100,000.
Chief Engler said he'd had some preliminary conversations with Tedeschi about extending the contract, but had not yet developed detailed estimates on how much the current contract costs Payson and hadn't yet sought direction from the Payson council on whether the town should enter into negotiations about an extension.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said he would not oppose an extension of the contract, so long as Payson residents didn't have to subsidize services for Star Valley. He said he had the impression that the current contract might have involved "several hundred thousand" dollars in subsidies.
Moreover, the two towns have in the past year developed dramatically different financial situations.
Payson has to cut $3 million from its budget for 2008-09, as a result of lower than projected sales tax and building permit revenue. Currently, the town has three empty slots on its roughly 30-man police force -- with the retirement of one or two veteran officers expected in the coming fiscal year.
Engler said that without the Star Valley contract, the town might not have to fill all those slots.
On the other hand, several of those slots have been vacant for some time, without affecting response times or triggering complaints from Star Valley about slow responses.
An analysis of response times prepared by Payson for calls in May from Star Valley showed a 0 minute response time for 57 percent of the 123 calls -- which means the dispatcher didn't think the call required the dispatch of an officer. Officers responded in less than 10 minutes to 38 of the remaining calls. Another 12 calls were responded to in less than 30 minutes and it took officers 75 minutes or more to arrive for two calls. The most serious crimes reported in May included two assaults, one disorderly conduct arrest, six emergency assists and 10 traffic stops.
So Payson's response all comes down to whether it could -- or would -- leave some vacancies unfilled should it refuse to renew the Star Valley contract. Tedeschi maintains Payson has not been subsidizing Star Valley residents, who provide about $600,000 in sales tax per year to Payson merchants.
In the meantime, Star Valley's budget picture has been much stronger than Payson's, thanks in part to nearly a million dollars in new revenue from its highway photo enforcement program and in part to a bare bones budget that includes the police contract, a one-man building department, a rented town hall and minimal public services.
The just-adopted Star Valley budget also includes about $194,600 for police services related to the costs of setting up its own police department -- which would need a building, cars, equipment and academy-trained officers, even though it wouldn't actually be providing services until near the end of the upcoming fiscal year. In F/Y 2009-2010 the town would spend an estimated $500,000 for its own department, said Tedeschi.