Budget drives look at PD options
Sheriff’s Office proposing to replace Sundance P.D. on contract basis
September 10, 2020
Wyoming’s finances are an increasing worry, said Mayor Paul Brooks at last week’s council meeting, and this has prompted the City of Sundance to consider its own budgetary future. One cost-saving measure that could have a significant impact would be to replace the police department with contracted service from the Crook County Sheriff’s Office.
“This budget crisis is real,” Brooks said as he introduced the idea. “Genuine cuts is probably where we need to be looking.”
Brooks explained that, with the retirement of Police Chief Marty Noonan coming up at the end of the year, he and Sheriff Jeff Hodge had broached the idea in conversation. Brooks said he considered it “a sound proposal” that was promising enough to bring to the council’s attention.
A police department is a tough thing to maintain for a small town like Sundance, Brooks explained.
“Law enforcement and emergency services all comes out of the general fund, so it’s a dollar for a dollar out of the money we get from the state…We’re just not big enough to carry ourselves,” he said.
“The reality is, the [small towns] that don’t fail [if funding from the state is cut] are going to see a radical change in how they do business. In this case, we’re being proactive.”
Combining resources seems like it could be a sensible route for the city and county to take, he said.
“Financially, it’s a good move,” Hodge agreed. Police Chief Marty Noonan echoed the sentiment, stating that he struggled with this year’s budget and cut everything possible, but would be unable to cut further as it’s not possible to run a police department with fewer people.
Earlier in the day, Hodge had presented the concept to the county commissioners and received their blessing to take it before the city council. The agreement would see the sheriff’s office provide law enforcement services to Sundance for $285,000 per year.
This cost would be all-inclusive, Hodge said, and would be a savings of approximately $75,000 per year for the city. The cost of dispatch services, for which the city already has a contract, is included.
The savings, said Commissioner Kelly Dennis, stem from economy of scale. Dennis felt the proposal was a win-win situation for the city and county.
To make the contract happen, the Sheriff’s Office would hire two new deputies so as to be able to provide coverage on a rotating schedule and would take care of everything for those deputies, from health insurance to equipment. As well as regular coverage, the Sheriff’s Office is willing to perform whatever enforcement the city needs, said Hodge, such as walking the streets during Winterfest.
The office is already located in town, said Hodge, as are the courts, which makes Sundance an ideal location for a contract of this nature to work.
The county will meanwhile make a modest amount of revenue for providing the services, Hodge explained, which he expects will be placed in an account and used for technology upgrades – which will also benefit the Sundance community, he added.
According to the sheriff, “We’re running on systems that are over 25 years old.” The cost to replace just the dispatch platform would be $300,000, and the contract would greatly assist in saving that amount.
An additional benefit, commented Council Member Joe Wilson, is that contracting with the Sheriff’s Office would negate the need to find and hire a new police chief in January, which could be tricky. Brooks noted that the department’s other two officers will likely be considering retirement in the near future, too.
Hodge agreed that his office can generally hire more easily because a deputy has more opportunities, more training and more variety.
The most significant change for the city would be that the Sheriff’s Office does not enforce ordinances. The Town of Pine Haven has maintained a similar contract for law enforcement services for many years, Hodge said, and this has not been an issue.
Hodge suggested that an employee of the city could be designated the ordinance enforcer; in Pine Haven, he said, this is a member of the Public Works Department. If that person does not feel comfortable attending an address alone – such as to respond to barking dogs in the middle of the night – the deputies would be willing to accompany them.
Numerous questions will still need to be solved if the proposal is to become a reality in January. “We’ve started purposefully early,” said Brooks, to allow time for the public to absorb the news and provide comments.
City Attorney Mark Hughes, for example, stated that the city’s ordinances may need to be changed to reflect there being an ordinance enforcement person. He questioned whether there will still be a need for a municipal judge, while Hodge suggested that the budget will need to be examined to ensure that the contract could be maintained in future years.
Brooks commented that he has spoken with Circuit Court Judge Matthew Castano, who believes he would have the jurisdiction and has confirmed that he would be able to handle it.
What would happen to the city’s current police vehicles was also brought up as a question that needs to be answered.
“These are discussions we need to have,” agreed Hodge.
With several months to negotiate the contract, Mayor Brooks commented that it’s important for citizens to have a voice. He encouraged members of the public to bring comments and concerns before the council.