Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bellevue citizens question planned law enforcement changes

City Council cites potential “overpayments” to Sheriff’s Office

Express Staff Writer

David Hattula

Bellevue residents are pushing back against a unanimous decision made by the Bellevue City Council recently to contract with the city of Hailey's police force for law enforcement services.

The decision was made to save money, but some residents are concerned that it was made in haste and could make the city less safe.

Under the proposed new contract, the Bellevue Marshal's Office would be closed and a police contact telephone line installed next door at City Hall for use during business hours.

The Bellevue City Council is expected to sign a new law enforcement contract with the city of Hailey at a budget hearing on Thursday, Aug. 11.

A petition with 68 signatures, gathered since Wednesday at Guffy's grocery store on Main Street, was delivered to the City Council on Thursday. It requests that the council "keep the Bellevue marshal's office open under the sheriff's office." The contract is scheduled to expire Sept. 30.

Cindy Hinojosa, who drew up the petition, told the council that burglary and domestic violence could "skyrocket" as some peoples' unemployment benefits expire.

"We like that Marshal's Office there. It gives us a sense of security," Hinojosa said in an interview.

A letter was presented to the council Thursday by Silver Dollar owner Pete Prekeges. It also was signed by Guffy's owner Martin Chandler and Mahoney's owner Shaun Mahoney, calling for the council to "take a step back" and reconsider the decision to contract with the Hailey Police Department.

All three men have said that law enforcement has improved since the Sheriff's Office took over law enforcement in the city four years ago.

"We are very worried," said Prekeges. "Take the time and due diligence to get it right."

Chandler said in an interview Monday that he had spoken with Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter, Bellevue Councilman Larry Plott and Bellevue City Attorney Rick Allington about his concerns, including late-night break-ins, bad checks and people driving away without paying.

"We vote people into office and we have to go with what they decide. But it is kind of curious why it happened so quickly," Chandler said.

Gunter said Monday that three sheriff's deputies currently working in Bellevue have agreed to transfer to the Hailey Police Department to keep working in Bellevue.

Brad Gelskey, the recently appointed Bellevue marshal, was on vacation and unavailable for comment on whether he would follow suit.

Bellevue City Councilman Dave Hattula said with closure of the Marshal's Office, and elimination of Susan Ramsey's administrative position there, the city would save almost $70,000 under the new contract.

The City Council also sent a letter of inquiry to the Sheriff's Office saying the city could have made more than $40,000 in "overpayments" to it since 2007.

"In my opinion this is a very contentious issue," Hattula said at last Thursday's council meeting.

In an interview, he added, "In my perception it went to increased salaries, when we were told there would be no increases."

Hattula also called for the return of two police cars to Bellevue. He said he would like for them to be parked in Bellevue at night. He also called for maintenance records and the establishment of mileage logs for use of the vehicles.

"They are our property, and we are trying to bring it back into the fold, so to speak," he said in an interview. "In my mind there is the gray area of where these vehicles go. We also want to know about the $3,000 yearly maintenance costs."

Hattula said contracting with Hailey would not reduce the amount or quality of law enforcement in the city.

"It is apples to apples as far as levels of service," he said.

He said the county's officers had received 3 percent cost-of-living increases and benefits packages during the recession, while hours and pay were cut for Bellevue city staff.

"The city has saved $200,000 from staff cuts since 2009," he said. "This council has made some tough decisions. We are still healing as a city. I am proud of what we've done."

In other Bellevue news:

( The City Council voted to not fund any portion of Sustain Blaine's request of $500 for the upcoming fiscal year.

( Allington was retained as city attorney. It will be his 17th year in the position.

( The city raised water fees and wastewater fees by the maximum allowable amount without a public hearing (4.99 percent) to $25.20 and $67.20, respectively. When in effect

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