Police Budget Raises Questions

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Does Payson have enough police officers?

That’s the question posed by the recent budget workshop, during which Police Chief Don Engler presented a tight budget that essentially gives up for now on hiring three officers previously authorized by the town council.

Engler says he needs the extra officers, but recognizes the need to economize in hard times. He said the 16 front-line officers have to handle and average of 1,500 calls each annually — nearly three times the ideal number.

We certainly applaud Engler’s careful management of the department, his clear communication style, his hard work and in recruiting a professional force.

Still, we hope the council will look hard at the department’s $4.5-million budget.

For instance, could someone please explain why only about half of the sworn officers take calls? And setting that issue aside, the loss of the $250,000 Star Valley contract amply justifies leaving two or three positions vacant. Moreover, we’re not sure we could make a strong argument for increasing the police force in the face of falling crime rates and the deep cuts in other departments.

We also hope the council will ask some pointed follow-up questions about the plan to slash the town’s contract with the animal shelter from $88,000 to about $35,000.

The chief based his analysis on the number of animals collared by the town’s animal control officer, which puts the per-animal cost at $300. But the shelter also handles many animals brought in by private citizens and other avenues. Getting those stray dogs and cats off the street benefits the entire community and should be taken into account.

So we applaud this year’s open budget process — and the chief’s strong leadership of a fine police force.

But we hope the council will do more than listen as the numbers flow past.

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