A unified police district is finally making headway in Salt Lake County.

Today the County Council is scheduled to appoint a working committee to get a new police district running. The idea has been batted around for years now, but it has been derailed several times.

"I think it will fly this time," Sheriff Jim Winder said. "I'm happy as hell with it."

The sheriff had to make some concessions to get the unified policing model started.

Namely, Winder will give up control of all financial and policy decisions to an administrative control board, made up of the contracted cities — Holladay, Herriman, Bluffdale and Riverton — and three county officials.

If Winder doesn't like the board's decision, he can veto, but the board can overturn the veto with a two-thirds vote. The sheriff will retain control of the administrative side of things.

Winder said the new unified police district could be up and running by next year.

"That was huge on the sheriff's part to make it work — he's willing to allow the trustees in the district to set policy," County Councilman Jim Bradley said. "It was very good of the sheriff to say it's important enough that I can give away certain powers to make this work."

The county is trying to buck the trend of cities bolting from their contracts with the sheriff and starting their own police departments. Three cities have already left, leaving county officials in a lurch. If too many cities end their contracts with the sheriff for police services, residents in the unincorporated areas will shoulder too much of the costs to pay for policing.

The unincorporated areas include Millcreek, White City, Magna, Kearns and the canyons.

Cottonwood Heights officially

started its police department this month after officials there complained of a lack of local control in its contract with the sheriff's office.

Too bad they didn't wait a bit longer, as the new unified policing model that officials are working toward will give the cities more local control.

"It just opens the door for more communication and more coordination with each other," Riverton Mayor Bill Applegarth said of the new police district idea. "It just has been real helpful to be able to understand each other's point of view from the counties to the cities. It's just been nice to blend that together."

County officials met with all the contract cities last week, and all agreed in principle to pursue the police district idea, Bradley said.

Funding questions have yet to be resolved.

County Council Chairman Michael Jensen said there isn't enough property-tax revenue in the municipal services fund to fully support the district. Contract cities, however, will pay for their fair share.

The County Council will have to decide just how much funding should come from property taxes, fees or sales-tax revenue, Jensen said.

"I am a supporter of a district concept for public safety," Jensen said. By choosing a district form, he said, "You are saying that public safety is so important and is the core service of government that we don't want to have it compete with other services for funding."


E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com