Police again an issue for Oak Creek

Resignation of Oak Creek officer reopens fraught questions

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— Oak Creek has struggled with staffing its police department for more than a decade. Since Reggie Mayes left in 1999, the town has gone through several police chiefs and officers, and at certain points, has contracted basic services from the Routt County Sheriff’s Office while stability remained elusive.

Now, after the resignation of Officer Lance Dunaway, the current Town Board and Town Administrator Mary Alice Page-Allen are tasked with revisiting what might be the most stubborn issue for Oak Creek.

Residents and Town Board members have criticized personnel, tactics and argued about the size of the department (ranging from one to three employees) throughout the years.

Surveys have been completed and a focus group was conducted without reaching a long-term solution.

According to the May 24 Town Board meeting minutes, where he spoke about his resignation, Dunaway said the level of staffing is an issue and that it is impossible to do the job effectively with just one person. Dunaway said he thinks Oak Creek needs a Sheriff’s Office substation, as it is more than 20 miles away from the main office.

Dunaway also said with a police department of only one or two people, there is a potential lack of accountability that could be a liability for the town. The town rejected a tax increase to fund a second police officer in November.

Accountability and liability

The halcyon days of the Oak Creek Police Department were the 17 years where Mayes acted as chief. Following him were six chiefs, a couple interim chiefs and several officers. Some left on good terms and others resigned amid controversy.

The department has lost police chiefs to allegations of misconduct, strained relationships with the Town Board members or residents, or for family and financial issues. A police chief and multiple officers also had left for other law enforcement jobs in the area.

The only constant has been part-time and seasonal officer Eileen Rossi, who has turned down repeated calls to take the top post in the past but has agreed to help out the town this summer.

Many in Oak Creek thought they had found the answer in Dunaway. He was praised by Trustee Johrene Meyers-Story, the police commissioner, at the May 10 Town Board meeting where his resignation was announced. And Trustee Wendy Gustafson also said he had made a difference in the town, according to May 24 meeting minutes.

After settling her lawsuit with the town in 2011 after a Taser was used on her by a previous police officer, former Mayor Kathy “Cargo” Rodeman said she had heard “nothing but respect from everyone I have talked to for Oak Creek’s current policeman, Officer Lance Dunaway.”

Going forward

A discussion about policing in Oak Creek is scheduled for the Town Board meeting June 28.

Mayor Nikki Knoebel and Trustee Josh Voorhis have been tasked with working with Page-Allen and Sheriff’s Office on law enforcement issues.

“We’re looking at all of our options,” Page-Allen said, noting a fiscal analysis of what is an adequate amount of resources and what the town can afford is in order. “I anticipate the town will work closely with the sheriff to identify our solutions. I don’t foresee that we will totally let loose of law enforcement and expect the sheriff to be the answer, but they are certainly part of helping us through this period in time.”

At the June 14 board meeting, Trustee Bernie Gagne said he has received dozens of contacts from people expressing interest in the law enforcement situation. “Overwhelmingly, the comments are, ‘We need a cop in this town, or two,’” Gagne said.

Oak Creek Police Department timeline

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

The fundamental issue is that Town of Oak Creek's general fund is too small for a properly sized police dept. In the past the Town mixed water, sewer, electric and tax revenues into basically one budget. So then there was money for multiple police officers, but the town's water, sewer and electrical infrastructure was not properly maintained.

Yes, the town turned down a tax increase to pay for additional police, but the amount of the tax increase was far from enough to deal with the underlying issues. The proposed tax would have allowed hiring a seasonal part time officer.

A part of the ongoing problem is the huge gap between the public perception that it is a relatively easy job since there is not that much going on,at any particular moment and the reality that there are 168 hours in a week. And the Town wants the officer to patrol during the day to catch speeders and so on. Only a month ago the Town Board wanted to be sure that Lance patrolled at nice to catch juveniles breaking curfew. Former Police Chief Linda Koile worked an excessive number of hours a week and still got not respect for her efforts

Another Colorado town the size of Oak Creek is Ouray with four times the tax revenues because it is a famous tourist town with hotels. I am unable to find other Colorado towns with a similar amount of tax revenues that have their own police depts.

In terms of size of the town's general fund, Oak Creek is pretty similar to Town of Yampa. Yampa has long had an agreement with the Sheriff's dept to pay an amount which the town can afford Sheriff's dept needs to offer a similar deal as they have with Yampa

And Town of Oak Creek needs to downsize the public's expectations on the level of government services. The Town has a land use code that is often more complicated than Steamboat's! Taste of South Routt needed a special meeting of the Town's Planning Board and then the Town Board had to consider the special use permit at the park. And staff had to prepare a formal analysis on whether Taste of South Routt conformed to the land use code and the comprehensive plan! That is more effort than is required in SB for using a park for an event.

General fund situation for Oak Creek is going to worsen before it gets better. Most of the general fund comes from property tax revenues. The valuation period for taxes ends on July 1st, 2012. Property values have declined since the last 2008-2010 valuation period. It takes 18 months for the new valuations to affect property taxes due. So Town's general fund will keep the same property tax revenues in 2013 as this year. But then both 2014 and 2015 will see lower property tax revenues due to this valuation period.

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