OGDEN -- Officials in eight Weber County cities have until March 31 to decide if they will pay more to the Weber County Sheriff's Office for police services or find an alternative.
The cities without their own police departments are Farr West, Hooper, Huntsville, Marriott-Slaterville, Plain City, Uintah, Washington Terrace and West Haven. The sheriff's office also serves unincorporated areas of Weber County.
Contract costs with the eight cities have been adjusted slightly over the last decade but not enough to keep pace with service costs, Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson said.
Under a proposal prepared by the sheriff's office, West Haven would see the largest hike, $552,609, and Washington Terraced would see the smallest, of $3,886.
The eight cities will have until the end of March to agree to the cost changes or pursue other alternatives such as contracting with a neighboring municipality for police services or establishing their own police departments.
WCSO officials will meet with city councils in the eight municipalities during upcoming work sessions to discuss the cost increases.
Sheriff's office personnel expenses, calls for service and county population growth have increased costs, said Chief Deputy Klint Anderson.
The unincorporated areas and the eight contract cities consume about half of the agency's services, primarily in patrol and investigations, while providing only a quarter of the funding, said Thompson.
WCSO officials and representatives from cities have been working for more than year to develop an equitable strategy for the contracts.
"It's important to do the right thing and sometimes that's inconvenient," said Thompson.
West Haven Mayor Brian Melaney, whose city would bear the largest dollar increase, said this week he hasn't been directly involved in developing the contract study.
"I went to the initial meeting (of the group developing the study) and with what I heard, I didn't stick around until the end," he said.
Melaney declined to say specifically how West Haven may fund an additional $552,609 for police services because WCSO officials won't make a presentation to the city council until next week.
However, none of the options to cover the cost increase involve establishing a city property tax, Melaney said.
"Not on my watch," he added.
Hooper Mayor Korry Green said it hasn't been determined how his city would fund a $207,281 increase proposed by the sheriff.
"We are looking at some things," he said, adding information about the increase will eventually be disseminated to residents.
The Washington Terrace City Council will carefully explore its options, said Councilman Val Shupe, who is also South Ogden's public safety director.
"We want citizens to be well protected and safe, but there is only so much money to go around," he said.
Several factors prompted the contract study and proposed fee increases, said Thompson, including:
* The legality of requiring Weber County residents who live in cities that have police departments, like Ogden, to pay for sheriff's services through property taxes while receiving minimal benefits;
* Financial challenges resulting in a need for the sheriff's office to examine its organization and operations;
* Each contract between the WCSO and the eight cities is uniquely crafted. Some officials in the eight municipalities have expressed concern regarding the equity and fairness of their contracts in comparison to others, said Thompson. In addition, some communities pay a larger share of funds for sheriff's services than others on a per taxpayer or per capita basis, he said.
Currently, Weber County residents who live in cities with police departments pay for local law enforcement through municipal taxes and the sheriff's office services through county property taxes. However, residents who live in unincorporated Weber County and the eight contact cities pay only for sheriff's services.
"In short, some taxpayers pay for two police departments: One they use frequently, such as their city police department, and the WCSO that they use much less, if at all," said Thompson. "Other taxpayers pay only for WCSO law enforcement services which is their only police department. This is not equitable and probably not legal."
Under state law, only those services that the WCSO provides to all residents should be paid by all taxpayers, Thompson said.
The proposal for the eight contract cities includes a cost formula based on each municipality's population and an 18-month call history.
The proposal also calls for the county to take less in property taxes from all county residents.
For example, an individual with a $200,000 home would get a $24 county tax reduction annually, said Anderson.
However, this could mean that some taxpayers in the eight contracting cities will see an increase in local taxes to fund WCSO services and an offsetting decrease in county property taxes, said Thompson.
In addition, those who live in cities that already have a police department will see a reduction in county property taxes and a net decrease in taxes overall.
"This will result in a tax shift to those who primarily benefit from the sheriff's office law enforcement services," Thompson said.
The proposal is meant to be revenue-neutral, meaning it won't provide extra funding for his office but will cover costs for services, said Thompson.
"We want to be good financial stewards and provide good services for the budget we receive," he said.
The WCSO presently provides services to the eight contracted cities through 68 personnel stationed at four precincts throughout the county, said Anderson.
The cities would likely have difficulty establishing their own police departments or contracting with other law enforcement agencies for the amount the sheriff's office is seeking and the services it provides, Anderson said.
"It would be difficult to match our costs," he said. "We have shaved it to the bone and already have the infrastructure that goes along with it."
The WCSO's annual budget is about $9.7 million, which funds all law enforcement operations, including patrol and detective divisions, but does not include jail, civil process and court operations.