Oak Creek Oak Creek's police focus group gave itself a deadline of June 1 to recommend what the town's future law enforcement should look like and to assist the Oak Creek Town Board with putting those plans into action.
But as the nine-member citizen group goes through the process, its recommendations may be constrained by the fact the town has only $120,000 to spend on whatever the group comes up with.
"We don't have a very good track record for policing," Police Commissioner Dave Ege said. "Maybe the biggest reason for that is that we can't attract the best candidates because of what we're constrained to" with the budget.
The town's budget can handle 1 1/2 to two officers at the most, without additional funding, Mayor J. Elliott said.
The most recent incarnation of the Oak Creek Police Department became defunct in October, when seasonal, part-time Officer Eileen Rossi left town for the winter. The town's embattled police chief, sergeant and code enforcement officer all resigned the previous month after no more than a year with Oak Creek.
In a work session with the Town Board on Thursday night, the police focus group was advised to explore everything from redeveloping a full Oak Creek Police Department to contracting for services with the Routt County Sheriff's Office.
An in-between solution that seemed to gain steam Thursday night was having at least one officer employed by the town to allow Oak Creek to enforce its municipal code and provide traffic control, even if the town opts to enter in a long-term contract with the Sheriff's Office for emergency services.
Routt County and Oak Creek have been unable to determine exactly what a long-term contract would cost. The difficulty had hinged on the Town Board wanting to see numbers before it can outline what services it wants, and the county has been unable to provide an estimate without knowing what the contract would include, Ege said.
Off-the-cuff estimates have been in the range of $50 to $75 an hour, and if the price ends up being that high, the money would be better spent on a local police force, Trustee Chuck Wisecup said.
"We've got to address the financial side of this before anything else," focus group member Walt Trout said. "There's no sense in looking for an officer if we can't pay him."
Law and order
The past three months with no local police have gone well in terms of emergency calls, whether that's coincidental or not, Wisecup said.
Dogs at large, snowmobiles on the road, and illegal U-turns and speeding on Main Street have been issues, but calls of a more serious nature have been handled just fine, he said.
The police focus group plans to gather public input with a mail-in survey, which will be sent out with the town's utility bills in February, and by hosting several public forums. The group set a target date of April 1 to come up with a town-specific job description so they can begin advertising if they choose to hire new officers.
"The process should be done very carefully, very methodically, with a lot of community input, and to get away from a lot of things that were done in the past," focus group member Ann Trout said.
In the past, the Oak Creek Police Department has had officers who said the right things to interview committees but who did not fit the town, focus group member David Bonfiglio said.
"We didn't approach it from what the town wants to see," Bonfiglio said. "We approached it from: 'Can you do the police job?'"
The focus group ultimately will not be making any hiring decisions, if that's where the exploration process leads, Trustee Josh Voorhis said. Hiring will be left up to the Town Board, though the focus group may be directed to play some role in an eventual interview process.