Our View: Oak Creek needs its own police force

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Editorial Board, June 2009 to September 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Grant Fenton, community representative
  • Paul Strong, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

To better serve and protect its residents, the Oak Creek Town Board should heed the advice of its community focus group and re-establish the town's police department.

It appears the town is heading in that direction, if slowly. Oak Creek town officials and their counterparts in Yampa are discussing a shared code enforcement officer position. The code enforcement officer would be available to respond to many of the typical calls for service in South Routt, from dogs off leash to other routine code violations. Although such a position would help fill some of the gaps in the law enforcement coverage being provided to Oak Creek by the Routt County Sheriff's Office, it doesn't go far enough.

The Sheriff's Office has provided the only law enforcement coverage in Oak Creek since Chief Russ Caterinicchio, Sgt. Erik Foster and code enforcement officer Tony VanDeventer resigned in September amid tension and controversy within the community. Recently, Sheriff Gary Wall told the town his office would provide more substantial law enforcement coverage in Oak Creek, but at a cost of $300,000 a year. The town has only $120,000 budgeted for a police department.

Provided Wall's cost estimates were reasonable, we can't blame his stance. Oak Creek has struggled with providing its own consistent police force for at least the past decade, so why would Wall want more of his deputies spending time responding to calls in an incorporated town that can't seem to figure out what it wants from a policing standpoint?

Since 17-year Chief Reggie Mayes left the Oak Creek Police Department in 1999, the town has cycled through six full-time chiefs, a couple of interim chiefs and more than a half-dozen officers. Town residents often express conflicting views on how they want to see the law enforced in Oak Creek, and the result is constant turnover in the police department.

The absence of a stable police force hurts the town and its residents, who should expect that their health and safety is a top priority of town government. For too long it hasn't been, but there are signs that town officials could be headed on the right track.

Some current Town Board members and a community police focus group have acknowledged that a hometown police force is preferable for Oak Creek, and we agree. Now it's up to the Town Board to make it happen.

Oak Creek also has applied for a federal law enforcement grant that would give funding for three law enforcement positions for three years, provided the town could pay for a fourth year of salaries on its own.

The outcome of the grant should not influence the Town Board's commitment to aggressively rebuilding Oak Creek's police force, which the town funded in previous years through its general operating fund.

It's high time those elected representatives come up with a successful plan for staffing and maintaining a police department that will protect and serve the residents of Oak Creek.

Comments

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

The big problem is that Oak Creek is too small with too little tax revenue to pay for a police dept.

Trustee Josh Voorhis at the last board meeting said that a viable town in Colorado needs a population of 1,200 to 1,500. Oak Creek, without a strong retail center, is going to be the upper end of that range. That would require 50% growth from the current population.

The County has made Stagecoach a growth center and so virtually all South Routt growth has occurred in Stagecoach where there are no town taxes or town approvals required.

With the grant, the annual OC police budget will be larger than the current general fund budget. If the plan is, as described by Trustee Wendy Gusftason, to build a professional police dept and then ask for a tax increase to pay for it, then they are talking about doubling or tripling town property taxes.

The only reason the Town of Yampa is viable is because the Sheriff's dept charges them only $7,000 a year for police services. Oak Creek with about twice the population is being asked to pay 44 times as much.

If Oak Creek gets the grant then OC will have one police officer per 225 residents. Rich Steamboat with gobs of sales tax revenue has one officer per 400 residents. Adding in typical number of tourists in Steamboat, the ratio becomes one officer per 550 occupants of Steamboat.

If Oak Creek tries to provide it's own police force then it will continue it's slow decay that will eventually result in disincorporation. There were 5 days in a row last month in which blowing dust from the streets resulted in zero visibility conditions.

By pure coincidence, several years ago I was at the downtown Steamboat air quality measuring station when it read unhealthy levels of dust that resulted in SB changing street sweeping practices and so on. The dust from the streets in Oak Creek are frequently worse than that. If there were ever a air quality study performed in Oak Creek then it might say something about burning coal and wood and it would definitely force the town to pave the streets.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

The judge found no such thing. After Dave Fisher wrote a rambling letter making a number of accusations, the Town municipal court judge decided that I should appear in court June 9th so he can determine the truth. I fully expect to win.

I have sued the Town. Small claim court date June 23 2:30 pm court 1A in Justice Center. I fully expect to win.

My previous threats to sue have caused the Town to issue rebates on: incorrect billing of residential electrical rates, incorrect billing of commercial electrical rates, incorrect charging for first 94 kwh of commercial and residential usage, improperly billing car wash for water and sewer.

Town Hall has a real problem reading and following their own ordinances.

And you are really vile. A disabled tenant dies in his sleep two weeks ago and you post that there are police calls to the Curry. My tenants like me. I give you permission, no change that to "I want you" to come by the Curry, knock on my tenant's doors and tell them what you think I am doing wrong and what are doing for them.

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oldskoolstmbt 5 years, 6 months ago

'ooohhhh..that's how you support a community..you sue them, of course!..but only when your almighty dollar is at stake...

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