A city councilman's plan to dissolve the police force and contract with Salt Lake County for police services met with surprise and skepticism Tuesday.
Councilman Paul Henderson called a press conference at City Hall to announce that he and Sheriff Pete Hayward had formulated a plan to save the city almost half of what it spends to maintain a police force by having the sheriff's department take over all of the city's police work.Mayor Kristin Lambert said she doesn't think the plan will save as much money as Henderson hopes; and Kal O. Farr, who on Jan. 1 resigned his post as the city's public safety director, said contracting with the county is something he has looked into a number of times but the costs never have been favorable.
Lambert said the City Council will listen to any member with a plan to save the city more than $1 million a year, but she believes Henderson's approach is backward.
"I don't approve of it. The process has been reversed. There should have been staff research first, then a press conference," Lambert said, noting the council never has discussed the proposal as a group, nor has it discussed where any money saved from such a plan would go.
Councilwoman Penny Atkinson was the only other elected official at the press conference. She said she supports the idea but has some "real questions" about the contracting cost down the road several years.
Firefighting services also could be turned over to the county, though a recent investigation of that plan showed a change would not have a positive financial impact on the city, Henderson said.
Henderson, with Hayward at his side, said his work on the plan has been done without the involvement of City Manager Ron Olson, the mayor, the City Council, Farr or any of the other brass in the Public Safety Department. Henderson also said he called Hayward before learning of Farr's plans to resign.
In fiscal 1988, West Jordan spent almost $2.5 million to maintain its police services, which is combined with firefighting in the Public Safety Department. Many police and fire officers are trained to do each other's jobs during busy times.
Henderson said police expenses consume 40 percent of the city's entire budget. Contracting with the county would provide "increased service at greater efficiency for only $1,225,000. Sharing services will not only benefit us with a greater level of service but results of savings of over 50 percent."
The plan would eliminate double taxation that exists because West Jordan residents pay property taxes to the county that help support the sheriff's department, Henderson said.
Hayward said West Jordan's police officers would be offered jobs as deputy sheriffs, but he didn't guarantee the officers would keep their current ranks. He also promised a smooth transition and said patrol cars could have a West Jordan logo on them in addition to county sheriff's markings.
The dollar amount of the savings Henderson quoted does not include the cost of reorganizing the fire department so it could operate on its own, the councilman said. Assistant Fire Chief Gary Jeffs said he doesn't know yet what it would cost to regroup the city's 17 firefighters into an independent department - Henderson hadn't talked to him about the plan either.
"They would have to hire six fire-fighters, off the cuff, to replace cross-trained public safety officers," Farr said.
Though doubtful the county could offer the same service level for less money, Farr said the city should "jump all over" the deal if it turned out the county could provide equitable services cheaper. "I don't want to knock the sheriff's department, but I am a little doubtful they could do it," Farr said.
Riverton and Bluffdale have dissolved their police departments in favor of having a contract with the county. Farr, who lives in Riverton, said he served on the mayor's advisory board when the decision was made to disband its police department.
Riverton's police department had a total of nine officers at the time. West Jordan has eight officers in its detective division alone, Farr said. West Jordan's investigations case load and the savings the city realizes by having cross-trained officers both complicate the county's ability to provide cheaper law enforcement services in the city, Farr said.
West Jordan's investigations Sgt. Dave Eyre said most officers on the city force would make more money if they worked for the sheriff's department. "Everybody would probably come out ahead dollar-wise, but the city wouldn't," he said.