Oak Creek weighs future of law enforcement
June 29, 2012
Steamboat Springs — The Oak Creek Town Board is faced with tough decisions regarding law enforcement for the town and its long-term financial future.
During a discussion about the future of law enforcement Thursday night, Town Administrator Mary Alice Page-Allen told the board that staffing a two-person police department would cost $200,000 per year. The town budgeted $117,000 for the department last year and recently saw the resignation of its only officer, who cited the difficulties of being a one-man department as a reason for leaving.
However, the path forward remains unclear.
During a presentation of the town's audit before the law enforcement discussion Thursday night, the accountant who prepared the audit, Tim Mayberry, said Oak Creek is at a break-even point with falling property tax revenues looming in the near future.
Page-Allen said the drop-off could be as large as 40 percent or more. With shrinking revenue a reality, finding the $200,000 for the police department would require that the town "structurally change how we finance our general fund obligations," Page-Allen said.
The other option considered by the town was contracting services from the Routt County Sheriff's Office. According to an email from Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, the Routt County Board of Commissioners is not in favor of providing law enforcement services to Oak Creek, and Wiggins cited the additional stress on his department as a reason he is not in favor of "being the sole source for law enforcement."
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Wiggins did provide two options for the town. The first is charging the town a rate of $51 per hour for law enforcement services. As part of this option, municipal code enforcement and nonemergency or noncriminal calls would not be handled by the Sheriff's Office. In addition, criminal calls that are not in progress would not receive an immediate response.
The second option would be supporting an Oak Creek police department, providing the town can afford it and forms one.
"I guess I'm not so willing to give up on the idea of solely going with a contract," Trustee Josh Voorhis said, adding that Wiggins' memo did not mention the option of Oak Creek providing the funds for additional Sheriff's Office staff to relieve the department stress cited by the sheriff. Voorhis said Wiggins' email stating the Board of Commissioners is not in favor of providing Oak Creek law enforcement services was not specific enough. He added that one or more of the current commissioners soon will be leaving the board and that perhaps having Wiggins serve as the middleman was not the best way to approach the commissioners.
"Maybe we need to have a meeting directly with the Board of County Commissioners," Voorhis said, "and find out truly from the horse's mouth what they have against the town of Oak Creek."
“We should talk to the county commissioners. Do they even know our budget? Do they actually relate? Do they see where we are?” Mayor Nikki Knoebel said. “I think that’s our next step: to go to the county commissioners.”
Oak Creek property owner Scott Wedel, who was in the audience Thursday night, suggested a third — "nuclear" — option: unincorporate.
"I think the county is really forcing the town to seriously look at dissolving the town government of Oak Creek," Wedel said.
"At these costs, we can employ our own people," Trustee Bernie Gagne said, citing Wiggins' email.
"I feel like we should have our own people. I do not feel as though the county is very favorable toward us on a number of fronts," Gagne said, adding that he doesn't hold it against the county, but it is a reason for the town to provide its own department.
“You’re going to lose the small town police officer feel with the Sheriff’s Office,” Knoebel said.
With a commissioner seat up for grabs, Town Board members expressed an interest in having the candidates appear at a meeting. "My vote is going to depend on who is going to help out Oak Creek," Voorhis said.
"We can find out how much skin is in the game here," Gagne said.
The Sheriff's Office currently is providing emergency law enforcement services to the town, and Oak Creek is being billed for some services.
"I think we have to take the long view. Honestly, unincorporating is not the best thing for our citizens," Trustee Wendy Gustafson said. "But I'm willing to face that one."
"If I wanted to live in the county and not have city or municipal services, I'd have already moved," Trustee Chuck Wisecup said.
In other action Thursday, the Town Board:
• Approved the Historical Society of Oak Creek and Phippsburg's plan to build a building to house a 1937 fire truck and will provide in-kind support for construction.
• Approved a resolution to enact Stage 2 fire restrictions with Oak Creek Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup having the ability to grant exemptions to residents and the Town Board being able to lift the restrictions.
• Approved changes to the town's personnel policies and procedure handbook.
• Approved temporary leases of water for agricultural use to drain Sheriff's Reservoir's spillway to the point a staff gauge can be installed to accurately measure the reservoir's level.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4254 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com