Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — One side calls it a race between a policeman and a politician. The other calls it a contest between a bridge builder and a divider.
But one point with which both Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder and Cottonwood Heights police officer Beau Babka concur is that this year's race for Salt Lake County sheriff comes at a crucial time — in the wake of creating a countywide Unified Police Force and its funding.
Winder, a Democratic incumbent, is seeking a second term after he unseated longtime Sheriff Aaron Kennard to become the county's top law enforcer in 2006. Among the accomplishments under his watch, Winder lists the formation of the Unified Police Department, the reopening of the Oxbow Jail and maintaining the level of protection the community expects even after being forced to cut $14 million from his budget.
"Citizens of this county are not looking for people who pass off answers and don't have answers. What they want is results. What I've given is results," he said.
Republican challenger Babka has been in law enforcement 18 years, working his way through the ranks to become the South Salt Lake Police Department's chief and later the Salt Lake County undersheriff for Winder. This is also his third run for public office, having lost in a 2002 campaign for sheriff and losing a bid for Congress two years later. He is currently an officer with the Cottonwood Heights Police Department.
"I've proven in the communities that I serve, I'm able to come up with problem solving strategies," he said recently during a debate on "The Doug Wright Show" on KSL Newsradio. "I'm a community cop. I'm somebody people can come to as a resource."
Despite his penchant for politics, Babka says he's a law enforcer first. But he says there are times a sheriff has to be politically aware when presenting budget proposals and policing strategies before mayors and county councils.
Winder, meanwhile, says his own accomplishments over the past four years speak for themselves.
"Those are real solutions, not rhetoric, not discussion, not academics. It's rubber meets the road, job work product."
Unified Police force
One of the hot-button issues for the sheriff's race is the Salt Lake County public safety fee. In order to make up for a budget shortfall, Salt Lake County decided to bill businesses and residents in its unincorporated areas for police service. Without the money, UPD would have had to lay off more than 100 officers. The fee is about $174 for an average house. But for businesses, fees climb into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. The biggest business, Kennecott Copper, is being billed more than $1 million.
Early on, the fee was commonly referred to as a UPD fee. A three-member board composed of County Council members voted on whether to impose fees. They called themselves the Unified Police District, something that quickly added to the public's confusion about who was behind the fee.
But Winder said he had nothing to do with it. An outspoken opponent, Winder stressed to the public that he did not have the power to raise taxes or impose a fee.
"The information sharing was poor. Implementation in the early stages was very problematic," he said. "The sheriff does not raise taxes. The sheriff manages a budget. … Don't blame me for what I didn't do."
Babka, however, says the sheriff should have known what was happening.
"For my opponent to say he didn't have anything to do with it, is wrong. He legislated it. He brought it to the council," Babka said. "He allowed it to go on. He has a role in this. He needs to be accountable."
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