Friday, June 26, 2009

County finalizes police contract

Sheriff’s office will take over Ketchum police duties on Wednesday, July 1


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

An elated Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, left, watches Thursday morning as County Commissioner Tom Bowman prepares to sign a contract that will hand over the responsibility for law enforcement in the city of Ketchum to the county Sheriff’s Office. Photo by David N. Seelig

Beginning next week, Ketchum's streets will be watched over by officers from the Blaine County Sheriff's Office.

The takeover by the sheriff's office was made official Thursday morning when the three-member Blaine County Commission unanimously approved a contract for services with the city. On Tuesday, the commissioners delayed a vote on the matter to give Blaine County Deputy Prosecutor Tim Graves and newly installed County Administrator Derek Voss a little more time to consider the contract.

The Ketchum City Council gave the deal their blessing on June 15.

Advising the county commissioners on Thursday, Voss said that while he believes there are several areas where the contract could be improved, those deficiencies are not enough to delay its implementation. He didn't elaborate on what those issues may be.

"It's in the best interest of all parties to move this forward," Voss said. "It's an important agreement."

Under the deal finalized by the county, the city of Ketchum will pay the county $1.56 million for police services for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and the entirety of the next fiscal year. Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks has said the cost of the 15-month contract is $200,000 less than what the city would spend to keep the department "in-house" and fully staffed.

As soon as the contract goes into effect, set to happen Wednesday, July 1, the city will gain another full-time officer, bringing the number up to nine, along with a police chief to be appointed by Sheriff Walt Femling. Indications are that Femling's choice is Blaine County Sheriff's Detective Steve Harkins.

The deal is designed to bring a measure of stability to a police department that's been rocked by uncertainty for close to a year.

Last October, former Ketchum Police Chief Cory Lyman stepped down to take an emergency services position in Salt Lake City. Former Assistant Chief Mike McNeil was promoted to serve in the interim. He then negotiated an early retirement in April, 16 months before he was officially eligible. Ketchum Police Sgt. Dave Kassner then became the next interim chief while the city looked at options for a permanent replacement.

Officials involved in Thursday's discussion noted that the contract has a provision that allows both sides to discuss making changes to the deal at any time. Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary suggested that talks could begin immediately to go over the contract concerns noted by Voss.

"This contract can be amended at any time," McCleary said. "I hope we'll continue to even strengthen our relationship."

Femling agreed, saying once the deal is in place, any issues that arise with the contract can be addressed right away.

"I feel very good moving forward," Femling said.

This is the second such contract the county has entered into with a municipality in the valley. Since late 2007, the sheriff's office has been providing police services in the city of Bellevue under a similar contract for services.

Already, the successful conclusion to the Ketchum police contract discussions has some valley officials wondering if a similar deal can be reached to consolidate certain area fire departments.

Jason Kauffman: jkauffman@mtexpress.com




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