Gunnison, Centerfield will need to vote again on interlocal agreement
GUNNISON—Mayor Bruce Blackham brought feedback from his meeting with Centerfield’s leadership about the state of the interlocal policing agreement to the Gunnison City Council last week.
At the council meeting Wednesday, Oct. 6, Blackham reported that one Centerfield council member, David Beck, was concerned about enlarging a potential combined Gunnison and Centerfield police force to five full-time officers.
“Beck’s main concern was that that fifth man not be a full-time employee but be made up of part-time employees thus saving money on benefits. His view was that, at present, there was plenty of police enforcement in the valley.”
Gunnison Councilman Blane Jensen, who has been Gunnison representative in drafting the agreement, disagreed with the concerns about the fifth officer.
Eliminating the fifth position “puts us right back to where we were,” Jensen said. “I can do the budget without the fifth man, and I will say the savings is significant. The first year alone you would save $40,000, but it defeats the entire purpose of the agreement.”
“I agree,” Gunnison Police Chief Trent Halliday said. “Part-time guys have full-time jobs elsewhere, so if we are relying on them, we will always end up with shifts we need covered because they are often unavailable.”
Jensen told the council that Brett McCall, Centerfield police chief, covers the shifts he needs with part-time officers, but he has had to reach further and further outside the area to find part-timers.
“I will be glad to redo the budget based on having part-timers instead of the fifth man, but I would just like to say, I will vote ‘no.’ I’m just one guy though and this is a group decision.”
Jensen also raised a concern that, when the city held its public hearing on the interlocal agreement, the main complaints received were over having part-time officers policing the valley who did not live here.
“Our citizens wanted to be sure they were being treated how they deserved to be treated,” Jensen said.
Halliday said he has tried to staff all of Gunnison’s part-time shifts with officers who live in the area. But it’s been difficult, he said, because often, when he calls people on his part-time list, the shifts he needs covered conflict with their full-time jobs.
“I don’t think we can effectively run a full-time shift with part-time guys,” he said.
In fact, if combining the Gunnison and Centerfield police forces doesn’t result in adding a full-time officer, “we should just stay how we are” and not consolidate, Halliday said. Otherwise, combining forces doesn’t benefit the city “in the ways we presented it in our public hearings.”
Referring to his meeting in Centerfield, Blackham said, “It was freely and openly conceded that (the) Centerfield Council voted on the agreement and it passed, so I just want to make sure it goes forward as best it can.”
Jensen explained that now that Mayfield has pulled out, the agreement to establish an interlocal police department would have to be rewritten, or at minimum, amended. Then the Gunnison and Centerfield city councils would have to vote on it again.
“Why did Mayfield pull out anyway?” Councilman Robert Anderson asked.
“They are being covered by the county so they don’t feel like crossing that bridge right now,” Halliday said. “They feel like the county is covering it fine so why pay any more.”
Jensen explained to the council that if Mayfield reached a high enough population, the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office would no longer be obligated to provide free coverage to the town. At that point, Mayfield could have to pay the county $80,000 to $100,000 per year for services, Jensen said.
An amendment to the original agreement has been drafted, Jensen noted. It accounts for withdrawal of Mayfield and changes the makeup of the governing board because of the withdrawal. As written, it calls for a five-person police force and directs that one of the two present chiefs, McCall or Halliday, be appointed chief of the combined department.
“I suggest and recommend that we put that amendment on the agenda so we can vote on it,” Blackham said. “Centerfield will have to do the same. I will report back to Centerfield that the fifth man is a sticking point and that I don’t know how our council would vote without keeping it in the agreement.
“I’m convinced that the benefit in this is going to come in a long term way. Even financially, I suspect that there is enough variables and need out there that, if we will be patient with this, it will grow to be a very wise and productive thing.”
In closing, Jensen explained he was looking into a federal grant that may be available to help pay for the fifth officer. He said it is a four-year program. The first year of employment, the grant pays 75 percent; the second year, it pays 50 percent; and the third year, it pays 25 percent. The community is required to keep the officer on for four years, but after the third year, it has to carry for the full cost.