Wednesday, May 20, 2009

County probes sheriff contract with Ketchum

Commissioners favorable toward deal

Express Staff Writer

Other than a few questions having to do with details of the contract, county officials appear to view the Blaine County Sheriff's Office's proposed takeover of police duties in Ketchum favorably.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, Blaine County Commissioners discussed the draft contract that Sheriff Walt Femling and Ketchum officials continue to develop.

The Ketchum City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the contract for police services with the county sheriff's office. The contract would give the sheriff control over law enforcement responsibilities in Ketchum. The county has a similar contract with the city of Bellevue, in place since the end of 2007.

One of the sticking points throughout the negotiations has been making sure existing employees of the Ketchum Police Department are not hurt during the transition process. Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall has said it is only fair to ensure that the existing officers maintain their salaries in a transition and also receive compensation for the county's lower insurance benefits.

A proposal on the table would have the city of Ketchum cover for the first year of the contract the costs associated with sick leave and vacation time that have accrued for officers currently employed by the city. After a year, the county would be liable for those costs.

Under this scenario, should a former Ketchum officer quit within a year of the changeover, the city would pay that employee's accrued benefits. The county would have pay those accrued benefits after a year. However, the county wouldn't hire someone to fill the vacant position until it had saved enough money from the vacancy to cover the cost of providing the benefits.

The county will see benefits from retaining trained Ketchum officers, Femling told the commissioners Tuesday.

"It costs too much money to train police officers," he said.

Though he made sure to say that the county is not looking to make money off Ketchum, Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman said he also wants to make sure the county isn't stuck with any unforeseen costs. Bowman said those sorts of costs must be Ketchum's responsibility.

"We are not the ones seeking this out," he said.

In early May, Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks gave a presentation to the City Council showing anticipated cost savings from the proposed contract, which he put at $1.16 million over four years. Marks calculated the savings by looking at what it would cost the city to restaff its police department, currently down from 12 officers to eight and without a full-time chief or assistant chief.

Femling said Ketchum officials have identified June 15 as the date they'd like to see the change happen.

"We've got a lot of work," he said.

Jason Kauffman:

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