Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bellevue eyes cheaper law enforcement

New contract could cut back on number of police officers


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

The city of Bellevue could save up to $165,000 by renegotiating a contract with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement, but the city is pondering the question of how residents feel about cutting back on services at the Bellevue Marshal's Office.

Another option would be re-creating a separate police force from scratch under City Council supervision.

The Sheriff's Office supplies Bellevue with a full-time marshal, four full-time officers and a full-time administrator at the Marshal's Office for $415,000 per year.

Councilwoman Barbara Patterson asked Fuller at a City Council meeting on Thursday, June 9, what the city could get for a lower fee, such as $250,000.

Mayor Chris Koch asked Blaine County Chief Deputy Ed Fuller to consider reducing the number of officers from four to three, closing the Marshal's Office, or reducing the length of shifts from 10 hours to eight hours.

The council is hoping these changes, or others, could help the cash-strapped city stay contracted with the Sheriff's Office, as it has been since 2007 when it requested consolidation.

Fuller said he would bring budget reduction requests back to Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey, a former Bellevue city councilman, for review.

Councilwoman Sara Burns said she has heard from several people in the community that they consider the city safer under the sheriff's contract than when it had its own law enforcement.

"They said there has been a remarkable and positive difference from four or five years ago, with everything from graffiti to illegal acts in the parks to bar fights," Burns said.

"It's your budget," Fuller said. "But the Sheriff's Office takes the liability" if the lack of resources makes it impossible to operate safely.

Planning Director Craig Eckles said the city got into financial trouble by not responding quickly enough to the recession in 2007.

"My department had been dragging in $75,000 each year with building applications, but that went away," he said. "Then we got the bill for dispatch." (The bill for dispatch services is $28,569 a year.)

He said that during the growth boom, the city passed an override tax levy increase, but didn't plan for the drop in building fees and other income due to the recession.

Eckles said the city spent most of its $500,000 in reserves over the past few years, a fact that in part has led to the need to renegotiate the law enforcement contract.

"We have a population of 2,377 people today," he said. "What is the level of law enforcement services we need?"

In other Bellevue news:

( Sgt. Brad Gelskey, a 20-year veteran with the Sheriff's Office, was sworn in as marshal of Bellevue.

( Brett Gelskey, his brother, stepped down from his seat as city councilman to eliminate conflict-of-interest concerns.

( Keller and Associates engineers provided revenue projections and costs for the city's wastewater treatment plant that indicated the city would not have to raise sewer rates beyond the annual 4 percent increase until at least 2028.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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