Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hailey to vie for Bellevue law enforcement contract

Marshal’s contract bids due July 20


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Gene Ramsey Jeff Gunter

The Blaine County Sheriff's Office, which provides Bellevue with law enforcement services for $415,000 per year, will soon see some competition from the city of Hailey.

Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson said in an interview that Hailey would submit a sealed bid for law enforcement services to Bellevue on July 20.

"We've been wondering where and how Hailey and Bellevue can work together for the benefit of both cities," Dawson said.

The Bellevue City Council will review law enforcement bids on Thursday, July 21, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. Only written public comment will be taken by the City Council prior to the meeting.

Currently, the Sheriff's Office contract to cover operations at the Bellevue Marshal's Office consumes about 35 percent of the city's budget, even after dropping one officer position in 2009.

Sheriff Gene Ramsey, a former Bellevue City Council member, is working on a new bid for services. He told the council last month that dropping one more officer would save the city $65,000 per year, but that it would reduce police coverage by 14 10-hour shifts per month.

"We're still interested in Bellevue," Ramsey said Monday. "We don't want it to be 'us against them.'"

The Bellevue City Council has been reviewing many contracts for services in order to reduce expenses in the upcoming fiscal year, but the possibility of reducing police coverage in the city to save money drew the biggest crowd to City Hall in more than a year.

The Blaine County Sheriff's Office took over law enforcement services in late 2007. Prior to the Sheriff's Office contract, the city spent about $376,000 per year for law enforcement, and not everyone in town was happy with what they got for the money.

Bellevue City Hall was packed on Thursday, July 14, with citizens who came to comment on possible changes to law enforcement services in the city. Some feared losing the law enforcement they currently have. Others thought the city should shop for cheaper services.

"Before the Sheriff's Department was here, it was pretty bad," said Bellevue resident Tyler Peterson. "It was really a joke."

Residents Shaun Mahoney and Florence Blanchard, among others, also recommended that the council remain affiliated with the Sheriff's Office.

Tim Olsen said his home was recently broken into, necessitating a call for emergency help.

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"Response time is very important," Olsen said.

Martin Chandler, the owner of Guffy's market, wrote a letter saying he provides the city with $75,000 in annual tax revenues from liquor sales.

"Police protection is so important to our business," Chandler wrote.

Others in the room thought exploring cheaper alternatives to the sheriff's contract would be a good idea.

"The $415,000 sounds like a lot of money," said Alan Barr. "I've got a lot of potholes in my neighborhood."

Michael Choate also thought the city was spending too much for law enforcement.

Councilman Larry Plott said cutting costs for law enforcement would help restore city staffers to full-time, 40-hour-per-week status. They are now working 38-hour weeks.

Some citizens took the opportunity at Thursday's meeting to speak out against the sheriff's deputies treatment of Bellevue citizens, including Patricia Hull and former Mayor Jon Anderson.

"They have been known to be a little overzealous," said Patricia Hull, but she provided no details.

"They could be more kind and friendly," Anderson said.

In a letter sent to the council, and read by Mayor Chris Koch, City Attorney Frederick Allington stated that before the Sheriff's Office took over the Bellevue Marshal's Office, there was a "revolving door" of young deputies circulating through the city to distant police departments after they had sufficient training. Under the Sheriff's Office contract, the city has seen three different marshals in four years. Allington recommended the Hailey Police Department as a competitive alternative to the Sheriff's Office.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas also wrote a letter to the council. He stressed the importance of good law enforcement practices in making successful prosecutions. Thomas said Bellevue currently has the "best level of service" since the beginning of his tenure as prosecutor in 2000.

"There are current investigations underway and the potential for serious crimes in Bellevue," Thomas stated.

In other Bellevue news:

( The Bellevue Survival Group was granted a park fee waiver to hold a fundraiser on Saturday, July 30, at Bellevue Memorial Park.

( The Fire Department received an insurance rating improvement from a level 6 to level 5.

"Everyone in Bellevue and within five miles of the city of Bellevue can use this rating change to reduce their insurance rates, if they haven't already," said Fire Chief Greg Beaver.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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