Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bellevue eyes cuts in police spending

Council members suggest closing Marshal’s Office


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Dave Hattula

As municipal budget hearings begin this summer, city leaders are looking for ways to cut spending.

When the Bellevue City Council began reviewing its budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Thursday, June 2, the first target for budget cuts was the Bellevue Marshal's Office.

The city spends $415,000 each year for law enforcement under a contract with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. That amounts to 35 percent of the city's general fund expenses.

In exchange, the city gets one full-time marshal, three full-time deputies and a full-time records clerk stationed at the Marshal's Office during business hours. The contract calls for 24/7 law enforcement coverage for the city.

Council Chair Dave Hattula led a charge to renegotiate the contract Thursday during a preliminary budget hearing at City Hall. He said that when the city agreed to the current outlay for law enforcement services several years ago, its "means were different."

"This is not a golden egg," said Hattula of the contract. "It can be renegotiated."

Hattula called into question the need for a daytime secretary at the Marshal's Office, next door to City Hall.

"That's $40,000 right there if we're talking about salaries," he said. "Do we need that?"

Councilwoman Barb Patterson said the last time the city negotiated with the Sheriff's Office for law enforcement, she had the opinion that Sheriff Walt Femling had given the city an all-or-nothing proposition.

"It's like we were taken hostage," Patterson said.

She told Marshal Bryan Carpita that times have changed in Bellevue, and with less nightlife now, there appears to be less need for law enforcement.

"We had one bar close in the last six months," she said. "What can you do for $300,000 for us?"

Councilwoman Janet Duffy asked if crime rates have dropped in Bellevue since the beginning of the recession, as they have in other parts of the country, perhaps indicating that the need for law enforcement has also been reduced.

"We have to look at the contract as a whole and see what we want," said Mayor Chris Koch.

Carpita said the Marshal's Office is already working on a tight budget, and that he did not personally handle salary change requests, but would pass the questions on to his superiors.

"We're doing the job with the minimum amount," Carpita said.

Chief Deputy Ed Fuller will represent the Sheriff's Office at a City Council meeting this Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

"One of the big things we've brought to the city has been the level of training for officers," Fuller said in an interview.

In other Bellevue news:

( Bellevue Librarian Patty Gilman made a case for increasing her annual budget of $32,000 per year with $1,500 for overtime hours. She said she plans to serve 150 kids during her summer reading program this summer.

"Donations are way down this year," she said.

Gilman's request for a $2,500 raise was denied, but the council is working to cut advertising and other parts of the library budget to make up for the $1,500 overtime salary increase.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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