Tight budgets handcuff police departmentsTight budgets are handcuffing local police departments. Mayville Mayor Don Moen knows all about it. The Traill County city of about 2,000 was without a police department for about a month, until a new police chief was hired last week.
By: By Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
MAYVILLE, N.D. — Tight budgets are handcuffing local police departments.
Mayville Mayor Don Moen knows all about it.
The Traill County city of about 2,000 was without a police department for about a month, until a new police chief was hired last week.
The loss of its entire three-member police department was a coincidence, Moen said. But pay and city finances played an important role. Chief Stan Baker resigned to join the police department in nearby Northwood, N.D.
New Police Chief Daman Bradshaw was one of the officers who left. The city lured him back by raising the chief’s pay by more than $5,000 a year, to about $42,000.
In order to compensate, the Mayville City Commission agreed to reduce its police force from three to two, even though it budgeted for three officers in 2009.
“We’ve seen fit to raise our salaries a little bit, to recruit and hopefully to keep our officers here,” Moen said. “We’ve found we’re a training ground for other police departments because many of them can offer more money.”
After the three officers left in September and October, Moen sought help from the Traill County Sheriff’s Department, which has contracts to provide police services to the communities of Hatton and Portland.
Initially, Sheriff Mike Crocker offered short-term and long-term proposals, similar to those used in Hatton and Portland. Those communities share one deputy.
Essentially, the sheriff offered to provide one deputy to Mayville, providing the city pay the deputy’s salary and all related costs. The deputy would be a county employee and receive county benefits, and the county would pay for training.
The county also would provide police coverage when the local deputy was taking vacation or other time off.
But before an agreement was signed, the sheriff pulled the offer from the table.
“I just felt it wasn’t in the best interest at this time for the county to provide police services for the city of Mayville,” Crocker said. “I didn’t feel the timing was right.”
Mayville Police Department’s financial struggles came to a head late last year, when Portland decided to contract with Traill County instead of Mayville, which had provided patrols in Portland since 1991.
The Portland city limits are just three miles west of Mayville. The community is commonly referred to as May-Port.
Portland had been paying Mayville about $3,300 a month in 2007, or $39,600 annually. Portland city leaders balked when Mayville proposed to increase that charge to $42,000 a year in 2008. The department stepped in and offered service for $2,755 a month, or about $33,000 annually.
Under that plan, which included a slight increase for this year, Portland and Hatton share one full-time deputy, with each city paying a monthly fee to cover the costs.
“It’s been working real well in Portland and Hatton,” Crocker said. “Both cities seem to be happy with it.”
Mayville approached Portland earlier this fall, to see if it might reconsider Mayville’s services for 2009, but Portland declined.
Now, Moen says he’s happy the immediate dilemma in Mayville has been resolved.
Bradshaw, a military veteran, spent part of his youth in Mayville, attending local schools and Mayville State University. He has experience as a military police officer and spent about two years as a Mayville police officer.
“My opinion of him is he’s a very bright young man, a very capable fellow,” the mayor said. “I’m optimistic we’ve got a good thing going here.”
Mayville isn’t the only local police department grappling with rising costs and high turnover.
The department in Park River, N.D., dropped from three to two in June. Mayor Dan Stenvold says that’s not enough protection and he would like some help from the county.
“We just can’t afford to pay for three police officers,” he said, “but with our size — I think we’re right around 1,350 people — we really need more than two.”
Sheriff Lauren Wild agrees that Park River needs at least three officers. But he doesn’t believe the county should have to pay the rising cost.
Like Traill County, the Walsh County Sheriff’s Department provides police protection for communities in the county.
For the past three years, the county’s contract with Park River has been to provide three deputies to the city. However, when another deputy resigned in June, Wild moved one of this Park River deputies to regular county duty.
Wild said the county is living with budget constraints and his department cannot stretch to increase coverage to Park River.
The Walsh County Sheriff’s Department has 10 officers: sheriff, one chief deputy/investigator; one investigator; two deputies stationed in Park River; four road deputies to cover the rest of the county; and one civil process deputy.
“They want us to pick up the slack, to answer calls over there. They want our office to supplant that third officer without paying for it,” Wild said.
“We’ll pay for two,” Stenvold said. “Hopefully, the county can come up with a third one. It’s up to them to do some coverage to cover us, if they don’t want to pay for one.”
Stenvold hopes to meet soon with the Walsh County Commission in an attempt to resolve the issue, so a new contract can be drafted.
“It’s been real civil,” he said. “Hopefully, we can come to some agreement. This is an issue all local governments are dealing with. We’re certainly not alone.”
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