Our View: Oak Creek police issues like deja vu

Advertisement

Editorial Board, August through January 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Shannon Lukens, community representative
  • Scott Ford, community representative

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

Oak Creek residents had a chance in November to send a clear message about their desire for a stronger police presence in their community. But by rejecting a proposed sales tax increase that would have generated funds to pay for a second police officer, Oak Creek effectively said it wasn’t interested in more police. That’s certainly the town’s right, but it makes it hard to stomach Oak Creek’s recent gripes about Routt County’s lack of enthusiasm for increasing the role of the Sheriff’s Office in the small South Routt town.

If it feels like deja vu, that’s because it is. The Oak Creek police merry-go-round has been circling for the better part of the past decade. Since the retirement of longtime police chief Reggie Mayes in 1999, it’s been a virtual parade of short-lived, full-time chiefs, interim chiefs, police officers and code enforcement officers. Most recently, Officer Lance Dunaway resigned in May, citing the challenge of being the lone member of a department tasked with patrolling the town day and night.

Dunaway’s resignation particularly was disappointing because he seemed to be well-liked and respected in a community that has had a tumultuous relationship with its law enforcement officers. And while seasonal Officer Eileen Rossi again will patrol the streets of Oak Creek this summer, the town will be left with no police force when Rossi departs come fall.

So last week during a Town Board meeting, Oak Creek trustees discussed their best options for providing law enforcement coverage. With a police department budget of about $120,000, the town is about $80,000 short of being able to pay for two full-time officers. Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and the Routt County Board of Commissioners appear not to support another option: having the town contract with the Sheriff’s Office to provide full-time law enforcement coverage in Oak Creek. The Sheriff’s Office does provide emergency coverage for the town on a contract basis.

Given Oak Creek’s history with law enforcement, we can’t fault the county’s apprehension. At their meeting, town trustees suggested meeting with the commissioners to discuss the issue, and some even talked about casting their vote for District 1 commissioner based on which candidate will be more willing to help Oak Creek. Mayor Nikki Knoebel questioned whether the commissioners understand Oak Creek’s financial issues.

“Do they even know our budget? Do they actually relate? Do they see where we are?” she asked.

We’re guessing the commissioners are acutely aware of Oak Creek’s situation, and that’s why they’re steering clear of a potentially burdensome commitment to law enforcement coverage there. Years of financial mismanagement and police department blunders have hurt Oak Creek, and while the blame can’t be pinned on the current Town Board, it’s now the one dealing with the consequences. Further, until the majority of Oak Creek residents demonstrate a true desire for full-time law enforcement coverage, it’s hard to get behind the recent push for change.

Oak Creek Police Department timeline

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years, 5 months ago

What an embarrassingly ignorant editorial. If people believe that collection of falsehoods and ignorant advice then Town of Oak Creek is going to be forced to unincorporate because this suggests the budget crisis is no big deal. Apparently you all are just as ignorant as the County Commissioners on how really small is Oak Creek's general fund.

First off, the tax hike premise is factually false because the proposed tax increase NEVER WAS CLAIMED TO BE ENOUGH TO PAY FOR A SECOND OFFICER!!!! The proposed sales tax for law enforcement was enough to pay for a part time officer. The talk of a second officer was based the vague hope of then finding additional money in the Town budget.

Second, the editorial is fundamentally wrong on how the Sheriff providing law enforcement coverage would work. Sheriff did not offer to do it for free. Sheriff offered to provide law enforcement at the rate of $51 an hour per officer. Which apparently projects out to annually charging the Town about $200,000. Thus, the county is not steering clear of a potentially burdensome law enforcement commitment because that option STILL REQUIRES OAK CREEK TO PAY FOR EVERYTHING!

Third, the financial mismanagement in Oak Creek is PRIMARILY FROM HAVING TOO BIG OF A POLICE DEPT!!! The Town has minimal revenues with a general fund in the $300,000+ range. But the Town has long taken money from the utility funds to pay for additional police while the utility infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate. Only in recent years has the Town clearly separated utility funds from the general funds which truly revealed the challenges of running a town on a $300+K general fund.

Fourth, the real estate valuation period that will be used for 2014/15 property taxes just ended June 30th. Town Administrator Mary Alice has contacted County Assessor to get earliest estimates of what the valuations will be. There is no great reason to believe CC's are so interested in Oak Creek's budget that they have been researching the very latest valuation projections which is down 40-50% for Oak Creek.

Fifth, the paper's editorial demonstrates that the Town's budget situation is not well understood by supposed knowledgeable people like the editorial staff. No one with any sort of knowledge on Town of Oak Creek's finances could make an ignorant statement like: "Further, until the majority of Oak Creek residents demonstrate a true desire for full-time law enforcement coverage, it’s hard to get behind the recent push for change."

0

Scott Wedel 2 years, 5 months ago

Brent, Tom, Scott Stanford - how about you share your brilliance and propose where Oak Creek should add revenues and/or specific budget cuts to be able to support full-time law enforcement coverage? Or do you all advocate an increase in Town property tax from 11+ mills to 45 or so mills which would be the very definition of a crushing property tax burden at more than triple SB's property tax rate? Or do you all advocate increasing the Town's portion of the sales tax up to 9% for a total of a 12.9%. Well that would instantly close the gas station and every other retail business.

Personally, I do not see where to cut the general fund. In fact, utilities are still subsidizing the general fund by providing free water, sewer and electric service to all town owned buildings and properties. In contrast, the Town seeks reimbursement from the utilities of all employee time and equipment spent on utility issues. In fact, the electricity utility is currently being charged for part of the expense of the road grader despite there being no justification being presented of how the electricity utility uses the road grader.

Town should have stopped trying to provide police services years ago. If Town is going to be able to survive providing some local services then Routt County needs to provide police services or other significant services such as road maintenance at minimal costs. It is simply not possible for a Town to provide police services and other essential services with a general fund budget as small as Oak Creek's.

Only question in my mind is how bad must the Town's situation become before the Town's residents actively question why they are paying Town property and sales taxes which appears to have the primary effect of denying them the benefit of services from both the Routt County Sheriff's dept and Road department. Town residents pay county taxes like all other county residents, but Routt County is willing to deny them basic county services.

0

max huppert 2 years, 5 months ago

I think you did a good job this time Scott AKA "Google Monster" I dont care if we have a town officer or not, as long as the taxes dont go up. Alittle extra razor wire around the house, maybe another Rottie. Maybe this town will get fun again.

0

bill schurman 2 years, 5 months ago

Ah, deja vu, as a relative newcomer to the valley I do have some comments as to the Oak Creek Police situation: In the late 1970's Oak Creek had TWO police officers, The Chief, Billy Stringer, and patrolman, Dale McNutt. Well Billy quit (or was fired ?) along with allegations that he (mistakenly ?) left with some of the town's property. So, in his absence Dale became the Chief of Police for several years. It was around this time that I became the town's attorney. As such, I attended MANY of the Town Board meetings and a common topic at NEARLY EVERY meeting was the discussion of overtime for Dale and the hiring of a patrol officer. Several patrolmen came and went but until his death, Dale remained as the (disgruntled with the Town) Chief of Police. Dale was perfect for the job as his philosophy was "live and let live" and he was well respected in the community. Dale and I became good friends and I hold him in the highest regard as a police officer and as a man. Later, in an attempt to hire a police officer the Town advertised for a patrolman in the Denver papers. Along came seemingly well qualified candidate, Frank Turvey. Frank had all the proper recommendations and it all seemed to be true so after "checking" out his credentials Frank was hired as a Patrolman. In fact, Frank did so well that he became the Chief of Police. There was just one little problem: Frank was a complete fraud: he read the Town's ads as he was being released from the Colorado Department of Corrections after being convicted of several felonies. He and friends dummied up all the recommendations and friends answered the phone when the Town called and gave Frank the highest of recommendations. Frank had two problems: (1) he would write traffic and parking tickets in Bond and McCoy (sorta out of the Town's jurisdiction), and; (2) he married a lady when still married to another woman and Frank's scam came crashing down. To make a long story short Frank was charged with numerous crimes, however, he skipped out and was gone for years when he was brought back from a Federal Penitentiary, plead guilty to one felony and off he went to England where Scotland Yard had a hold for him (after all, he was a British citizen). Deja vu in Oak Creek ??? They say that history repeats itself. We'll see... .

0

Scott Wedel 2 years, 5 months ago

Well, when sometime happens often enough then there might be a pattern and the pattern might have underlying reasons.

A one or two person police force is simply not sustainable or a stable situation.

Town of Oak Creek is in a difficult situation in no man's land. Town of Yampa has revenues roughly half of Oak Creek's and so most clearly cannot afford their own police dept. So Sheriff's dept and Routt County government worked out a deal to provide policing at a rate that allows Yampa to have a town government.

Town of Hayden has substantially more general fund revenues and can afford a local police dept with a budget larger than Oak Creek's entire general fund.

Oak Creek has just enough general fund revenues to afford an officer or so, but not enough to have a proper police dept. So Routt County can pretend that OC can handle the policing. When in reality it isn't big enough to have a functional stable police dept.

0

Scott Wedel 2 years, 5 months ago

So I went to County Board meeting today and spoke in public comment about the financial impact of Sheriff Wiggins letter outlining law enforcement options to Town of Oak Creek. We had a nice discussion.

Turns out editorial is wrong on this claim: "We’re guessing the commissioners are acutely aware of Oak Creek’s situation"

First off, since the Sheriff has independence from the CC, they had not even seen the Sheriff's letter to the Town of Oak Creek laying out his conditions for providing law enforcement.

CC Monger and Mitsch Bush both stated they are not acutely aware of Oak Creek's situation and are hoping for an upcoming meeting with the OC Town Board and Town Administrator Mary Alice to learn about the situation.

CC Stahoviak said former Oak Creek mayors diverted funds from the police dept and that Town was able to have two police officers when she was town treasurer.

Which, for the record, was 20 years ago. Considering the Denver area CPI is a cumulative 83% over those 20 years (so purchasing power of $1 in 1992 is same as $1.83 today) and I know Oak Creek's general fund tax revenues have not increased by 83% over that time. Property values are about the same in absolute dollar terms. Ie an $85K house in 1992 can be sold for $85K today when just merely keeping up with inflation would have increased the property value to about $150K today.

0

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.