FILER — Does it matter who provides law enforcement in town?
It sure does in Filer, where hundreds turned out to a City Council meeting to learn more about the fate of the city’s police department.
Mayor Rick Dunn recently asked Twin Falls County Sheriff Tom Carter to come up with a proposal to provide coverage for the town of nearly 3,000. Carter pitched his proposal Tuesday evening to the City Council and a capacity crowd, while several hundred people stood listening outside the council chambers.
A petition to save the Filer Police Department circulated through the crowd on the street.
“I’m having no problem getting people to sign,” said petitioner Debbie Nelson.
The mayor’s request to the sheriff came as a complete surprise — and an insult — to Filer officers, most of whom have served on the department for years.
To Police Chief Tim Reeves, whose city has one of the lowest crime rates in Idaho, the request was a vote of no confidence.
“It tells us the city doesn’t value us,” Reeves said. “The officers know our town. They know the people in town.”
But the police are not the only ones in shock, he said. The first inkling anyone had about the mayor’s idea was a vague mention of a presentation by Carter on the City Council’s agenda, posted Thursday.
Dunn’s move caused many to question what’s going on at City Hall, Reeves said. Townsfolk aren’t happy that Dunn didn’t run his idea by the City Council before talking to the sheriff.
“The fact that (Dunn) blindsided the town and the City Council is suspicious,” said Erik Partin, owner of Lone Wolf Motors auto repair in Filer.
Partin’s shop sits behind a convenience store/gas station in town.
“We don’t have a cafe, so a lot of locals talk at the store,” he said. Most don’t believe the issue is about money.
“It’s not so much the budget as it is a personal issue.”
Complaints about the council chambers being too small to handle the crowd Tuesday reverberated inside and out.
“If you drop a bomb like this, you gotta know you’re going to have the whole town come out,” said a man in the crowd.
But the meeting was for information only, Dunn said, to be used during the upcoming budget process.
“I want to hear what you think,” he said, “but this is not a public meeting.” Any comments should be sent in writing or by email to the city clerk.
“How do we know that you will read them?” said a woman who didn’t identify herself.
Carter ran through the costs associated with providing the same service as the city now provides. For six officers, providing 24-hour service, seven days a week, Carter estimated the costs at $425,424 per year.
But it’s not clear how this compares with what the police department costs now. Reeves said his annual budget is for $871,586, but much of that is for line items he doesn’t directly control, such as the police department’s portion of the City Council members’ salaries and money pegged for future building funds.
“I only control about $84,000 of the total budget,” he said.
The colors of the uniform
Dunn asked anyone with comments or concerns to send them to the city clerk’s office. If the City Council decides to explore the idea further, a public hearing will be scheduled.
If the plan were to go forward, Carter plans to absorb the police officers into the sheriff’s office.
“We don’t want anyone to lose their job,” said Capt. Tim Miller.
“A lot isn’t going to change,” Carter said. “The big difference you’ll see is law enforcement will be wearing a gray uniform rather than a blue uniform.”