Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bellevue eyes cutting police officer position

Town hall meeting planned to discuss marshal’s contract

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Sheriff's Department is willing to reduce law enforcement services to save the city of Bellevue some money. City leaders want to know how residents feel about the possibility of losing some police coverage before making that move.

"It's your budget," Sheriff Gene Ramsey said at a City Council budget meeting Thursday night.

"But you don't get the same level of service if you cut it. The rest of Blaine County will not subsidize you."

Council Chairman Dave Hattula said the city had to look at the "big picture" of the overall city budget and start setting spending priorities.

Hattula said the city should allocate about $25,000 in the upcoming year to restore city staff to 40-hour workweeks, up from the current 38-hour workweeks.

"I'd also like to see some potholes get fixed," he said.

"City Hall is closed on Monday and that is a level of service that many people are not happy with," said Mayor Chris Koch.

Ramsey, who until recently held a seat on the Bellevue City Council, said the Sheriff's Department contract with the city could be renegotiated.

"It is not a closed book," he said.

The city spends $415,000 each year for law enforcement under a contract with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. The city gets one full-time marshal, three full-time police officers and a full-time records clerk stationed at the marshal's office during business hours.

Ramsey said cutting one officer would save the city $65,000, but would reduce police coverage in the city by 14, 10-hour shifts per month.

He said closing the city marshal's office during business hours and laying off the records clerk would not cut as much spending as the council thinks.

"Someone still has to do the paperwork," he said. Councilwoman Sara Burns called for a town hall meeting to find out what residents have to say about policing before the council makes a decision.

"I know someone who has lived in Bellevue for 20 years and just had her home broken into for the first time," said Burns.

The council tentatively scheduled a town hall meeting for Wednesday, June 29, at the Bellevue Elementary School.

Ramsey said he could bring crime statistics for a presentation at the meeting.

"Until we find out what they (residents) want, how do we know what we want? Koch asked.

Tony Evans:

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