With a little more than half a year to iron out a new police contract with Payson, Star Valley has taken the first steps in hiring its own police officer, hoping it could sweeten a new contract with an officer-strapped Payson Police Department.
Star Valley took out several ads recently in the Roundup seeking an experienced officer. Town attorney and interim town manager Tim Grier said few applications have been submitted and the town does not know what they will pay the officer or how much it will cost for training.
“It is still very preliminary,” Grier said. “We are still hoping to extend our contract with Payson, but it is up to the council.”
Star Valley’s police contract expires on June 30, 2009 and the town has yet to extend or renegotiate the contract with PPD or start its own police force. The town had talked about starting its own police department, but Grier said the costs of starting a department are unreasonable for the small town.
“We talked about doing our own department, but that is not our first hope, we hope to extend the contract,” Grier said. “The cost of putting together our own police force in place would likely be almost prohibitive and Payson would provide a better service for police protection.”
Star Valley is struggling to finalize a new deal with Payson, amidst concerns of liability and PPD having enough officers to cover the area at the same cost, without taking away from Payson residents.
“One of the concerns Chief Don Engler has said is coverage of the different shifts,” Grier said. “He would like to see five eight-hour shifts covered a week. That is what we are trying to accomplish with an officer, to supplement the impact on the PPD.”
Having an additional officer covering peak call time, between 2 p.m. and midnight would lessen some of the strain on the department, Engler said.
Over the last four months, PPD responded to 330 calls in Star Valley, a little more than 2.5 calls a day, at a current cost of $261 a call.
In Payson, police responded to 22,845 calls in the past year. Given the $4.3 million budget, that works out to a cost of $188 per call.
The current $258,000 annual contract calls for Payson police officers to respond to crimes and complaints in Star Valley, without providing many of the additional patrol and support services offered in Payson. A Star Valley officer would provide patrol services and take some of the burden off the PPD, which is down several officers.
Engler has said the true cost of a full-fledged police force represents an insurance policy against disaster, which is not fully reflected in the day-to-day pattern of routine calls.
If a major case occurred, several officers could be pulled from Payson to handle it.
According to Star Valley records, the majority of calls in the last four months did not involve arrest and were for suspicious activity, traffic, animal problems and activated alarms. There were no calls for homicide, rape or robbery.
Engler said the department has responded to several large calls over the past two years, including three vehicle fatalities, an aggravated assault and the special response team was sent out.
“(Former town manager Vito) Tedeschi used to say to the press nothing major happens, but not from our perspective,” Engler said.
Star Valley hopes hiring an additional officer, under the direction of Engler could convince Payson council members to extend the contract.
“We hope to begin talks with council soon,” Grier said.
“We recognize that it is up to Payson council first and before that, Chief Engler. We hope Payson will extend the contract because we have to have something set up sooner rather than later for June, which will come along very quickly.”
Engler said the contract is still in the preliminary stages, but something formal could be drafted in a few weeks.
“They would most likely not continue the contract as it is,” Engler said. “We need to see if there is some type of adjusted agreement.”
If a new officer is hired before June, Grier said they would pay similar to other agencies in the area. The town already has a new police vehicle and grant to outfit it with lights.
Coming by an officer may prove to be the hardest part of the deal.
“It is a challenge to get a police officer up here,” Grier said.
“They are a limited resource and we are competing with other agencies so we may have the challenge of availability, similar to Payson police.”
On top of a new officer, the town is considering hiring an additional officer to cover holidays and vacations.
Grier said the town’s main goal is extending the contract.
“I understand Payson’s resources are extended,” he said. “We would be mitigating some of the costs to Payson by having an officer.”