OGDEN -- The deadline for eight cities to decide if they want to pay more to the Weber County Sheriff's Office for police services or find an alternative has been extended five months to Aug. 31.
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.
Under a current proposal, West Haven would pay the largest annual cost increase, $552,609, and Washington Terrace would see the smallest, $3,886.
The deadline extension from March 31 gives officials in the cities more time to evaluate whether to continue contracting with the sheriff's office, form their own police departments or partner with neighboring cities, Weber County Sheriff Terry L. Thompson said.
"It helps them prepare in looking at what they want to do," Thompson said. "City officials should always be looking for more efficient ways to provide services to residents."
The execution of new contracts or the termination of existing ones with the cities would take effect July 1, 2013, Thompson said.
Korry Green, mayor of Hooper, which is being asked to pay an additional $207,281, said the city council wasn't concerned with meeting the original March 31 contract deadline.
"We decided we would just ignore it," he said.
It hasn't been determined how Hooper can fund the increase because it doesn't have a local property tax, Green said.
However, there is a possibility the sheriff's request could force the implementation of a tax, he added.
There have been informal discussions between Farr West, Marriott-Slaterville, Plain City, West Haven and Hooper officials about possibly pooling funds currently paid to the sheriff to form a joint police department, but no agreement has been reached, said Farr West Mayor Jimmie Papageorge.
West Haven Mayor Brian Melaney declined to elaborate on what he is doing to address the county funding request.
"I don't want to negotiate this in the media," he said, adding the WCSO has a legal obligation to serve West Haven even without a contract.
"They have to respond to calls," he told the Standard-Examiner.
However, the sheriff is required to respond within all cities in the county only to crimes in progress that pose an immediate threat to life or property, said Chief Deputy Klint Anderson.
The Washington Terrace City Council likely won't quibble about paying almost $4,000 more because it is extremely pleased with services, but wants to explore possible cost savings within its law enforcement budget, said City Manager Tom Hanson.
The total amount being requested from the eight cities isn't final and could be reduced by as much $500,000 if the five vacant deputy positions are not filled, Anderson said.
Contracts with the eight cities have been adjusted slightly over the last decade, but haven't kept pace with service costs, population increases and a reduction in grant funds, said Thompson, who was elected in 2010.
"We need to fix the problem," he said. "City officials need to take ownership."
Sticker shock probably could have been avoided if the increases had been implemented incrementally over several years, Anderson said.
"It probably should have been gradual because we would be at that point (of achieving the same increases requested in the new contracts)," he said. "This has been an issue for the last decade and a half.
"Every year we have capitulated, but now it can't legally and ethically be done any more."
The unincorporated areas of Weber County 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, Thompson said.
Sheriff's officials and representatives from cities have been working for more than a year to develop an equitable strategy for the contracts.
Each of the eight contracts is uniquely crafted. Some city officials have voiced concern about the equity and fairness of their contracts in comparison to others, Thompson said.
Weber County Commissioner Jan M. Zogmaister said it's understandable that the eight cities want to negotiate the most affordable contract possible.
"Every mayor wants to try to keep the cost down," she said.
The WCSO contract study has been eye-opening and necessary to put all cities on an even playing field, she said. "It's a good exercise, and I think the right thing to do.".
Although the county commissioners allocate funds to the sheriff's office, Thompson is responsible for determining how the money is spent.
The contract increases are needed, said Weber County Commissioner Craig L. Dearden.
"We need to catch things up and see what shakes out of it," he said.
Dearden established the initial contracts with West Haven and Farr West while serving as sheriff.
"I anticipated that the contracts would be increased," said Dearden, who resigned as sheriff in 1997 to become the state's director of public safety.
Brad Slater, who was a captain with the WCSO at the time, was appointed by the county commissioners to succeed Dearden as sheriff.
Slater, who is currently the chief deputy for the Cache County Sheriff's Office, could not be reached for comment regarding the Weber contracts.
Presently, 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 contract cities pay only for sheriff's services.
Some communities pay a larger share of funds for sheriff's services than others on a per taxpayer or per capita basis, Thompson said.
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 and unincorporated Weber County 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, the owner of a $200,000 home would get a $24 county tax reduction annually, Anderson said.
Although taxpayers in the eight cities that contract with the WCSO would have a decrease in county property taxes, they may see an increase in city property taxes based on the decisions by their city officials, Thompson said.
In addition, residents of cities that already have a police department, such as Ogden, would see a reduction in county property taxes and a net decrease in taxes overall.
The eight contracted cities would likely be hard-pressed to form their own police departments or contract with other agencies for the amount the WCSO is seeking and the level of service it provides, Anderson said.
For example, for a city the size of West Haven, which has about 11,000 residents, a police department with 15 to 18 employees would be needed, Anderson said.
It would cost a minimum of $800,000 to $1 million to establish a department that size and would require an annual operating budget of about $1.5 million, he added.