Payson Police will cut about $300,000 from this year’s budget and remain three officers under its full authorized strength — which largely reflects the impact of losing its contract to provide police protection for neighboring Star Valley.
The department is asking for a $4.5-million budget, which will skimp on training, take advantage of assorted grants and continue imposing on front-line officers a call load two or three times heavier than the “national standard,” Police Chief Don Engler told the town council this week at a marathon budget study session.
“We started with a conservative approach that we hope will find favor,” said Engler.
The council had previously authorized a force of 34 officers, which included two positions to cover the 1,400 calls per year coming in from Star Valley. The department recently hired several new officers and had gotten up to 32 officers, although one candidate failed to finish the academy.
Out of the 31 officers now on the force, only 16 are considered front-line officers who respond to incoming calls for service. That means the 16 officers handle about 1,500 calls per year, compared to national standards of about 500 calls per year.
“We have worked down (in staffing) for a lengthy period of time,” said Engler, “and we have lost two officers this year due to the stress.”
He said the department would nonetheless cut costs for the upcoming year and freeze three vacant positions. “We understand the economic times we’re in, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t help you understand the gravity of this situation.”
Engler noted that the department has also had trouble maintaining its core group of 52 citizen volunteers, who help patrol special events, man the phones, provide crime scene security and perform other duties.
Those volunteers have donated 90,000 hours of their time since the year 2000.
“We’ve worked them so hard, I’m afraid we’re driving some of them off,” said Engler. “It’s beginning to appear we’ve asked too much of them and it’s more and more difficult to fill the slots.”
Engler also proposed a drastic cut in the amount the town pays to the Humane Society to handle stray cats and dogs.
The proposed cut from $88,000 annually to $35,000 annually comes at a bad time for the Humane Society, which broke ground Saturday on phase one of its effort to build a new animal shelter, with soundproofed, enclosed kennels, separate areas for sick animals and a low-cost community spay and neuter clinic. Although fund-raising has lagged due to the economy, the Humane Society decided to go ahead with road building and the foundations for the new facility.
Historically, the town paid a flat $88,000 annually. In return, the Humane Society took in and sought homes for about 100 to 400 animals brought in each year by the police department’s animal control officer.
Engler noted that it costs about $68 per prisoner to book a human being into jail, but about $300 per dog turned in to the shelter.