Mantua might be known as a “speed trap” by many, but its police do so much more. And it’s time for the growing town’s citizens to start thinking about how to support their small force.
Mantua Mayor Mike Johnson has also served as the police chief for about a year and a half. He announced plans to retire as chief in the town’s August newsletter, effective July 1, 2017. Johnson is the only person working on the police force full-time. He made a reported $42,000 last year with no benefits.
The way he sees it, the people of Mantua need to think about bumping their taxes to help attract a new, dedicated chief or do away with its police department. He called the latter option “a bad move.”
“We must be proactive and make sound decisions now,” he wrote. “We are already experiencing all the problems associated with a resort community.”
Those problems mostly have to do with Mantua’s growing pains, Johnson told told the Standard-Examiner.
“When we first moved here, the road past our place wasn’t even paved,” Johnson said, who has lived in Mantua since 1985. “Many other roads in town weren’t paved. The biggest change, of course, is the amount of building that’s going on.”
One large subdivision is currently under construction, and another 108-home subdivision has been proposed, Johnson said. That development will double the size of the 750-person town in around five years.
Beyond the ballooning number of residents, Brigham City added a new boat dock, public restrooms and sandy new beach to the Mantua Reservoir. Brigham City owns the waterbody and agreed to maintain its amenities if the Mantua police provide enforcement.
But, the reservoir improvements “brought in a lot of people — more than either we or Brigham City ever expected,” Johnson said.
Mantua is becoming an increasingly popular destination for camping and ATV trips up Willard Peak, too. More people and more traffic ups the need for more patrolling.
Mantua brings in a decent chunk of revenue from the tickets its police issue to speeding drivers traveling on U.S. Highway 91 between Brigham City and Logan. But it’s not enough to cover all the town’s costs, according to financial clerk Lorrie Hurd.
“It does not fund the entire city by any means,” she said. “It does fund the police department and the town court. Last year, it covered most of our fire department. This past fiscal year, it covered about half.”
Recent attempts at legislation to limit the amount of traffic ticket revenue towns can collect could put a dampener on that funding source, too.
Last winter’s rescue of a woman and her two dogs points to the need to maintain a strong local police force in Mantua, Hurd said. The 32-year-old woman was out for a morning walk and fell through the ice on the reservoir trying to retrieve her dogs. Mantua part-time officer Brad Nelson was able to respond quickly and save the woman’s life. The dogs survived, too.
“It’s a great example of what can happen,” Hurd said. “We as the public, as a town, feel safer. The town is growing and we have a lot of activity going on year-round.”
The Mantua police department includes three other officers who work part-time. Johnson will begin working part-time in October. He said the only way to recruit and retain a new full-time chief is by raising property taxes. The Little Valley Country Store and Campground is the only real business in town, limiting the town’s funding sources.
“The majority of the citizens up here want to keep this a bedroom community, without expanding to other commercial sources for tax revenue,” Johnson said. “And it’s not just a police chief that needs to be paid for, we need more maintenance personnel.”
The Mantua town council voted this week to keep property taxes the same this year, but Johnson said residents must face the prospect of a future increase if a solid local police force is to remain a priority.
“There’s not a whole lot of options we have,” he said.