The growing city has carried out “informal” studies in the past on the question, aiming to get a sense of how much creating a new department would cost, said Mayor Sharon Bolos. It’s typically a question city leaders debate as they go through the budget-crafting process.
Now, officials plan to take things a step further, contracting with a consultant to dig more deeply into the matter. West Haven City Council members reached consensus last week to go ahead with a study, and the consultant, when picked, will be tasked with sorting the pros and cons of maintaining coverage through the Sheriff’s Office, creating a new police department and creating a special policing district. West Haven’s current contract for service with the sheriff’s office expires next year and the hope is to have the study completed before that, ahead of talks to extend the arrangement.
Having the information from the study, said West Haven City Manager Matt Jensen, should better inform city leaders on the possibilities and options before potentially committing to a new deal. West Haven is the fastest-growing city in Weber County over the past decade.
“This allows us to go into the negotiations with some answers so we won’t be sitting at the table wondering what could’ve been,” Jensen said. “The study will help us make some big decisions as we look to grow.”
Financial considerations could figure big in whatever direction the city ultimately goes. Prior inquiries into the question have indicated that creating a new police department would be a more costly proposition than continuing with sheriff’s office protection. West Haven is one of eight Weber County cities without a police department that instead gets coverage from the sheriff’s office.
“The cost is a big issue when you’re talking about a city that doesn’t have a city tax,” said City Councilperson Nina Morse. As is, West Haven doesn’t levy a property tax unlike most other Weber County cities, limiting the ability of the city to raise funds.
Notably, the city might face the specter of having to build a new police department building if it were to create its own department because of limited space at West Haven City Hall, Jensen said. Then there are costs of getting police cars and other equipment to consider.
On the other hand, having a police department helps a city create more of an identity, Jensen said, and it would give local officials more control over how law enforcement issues are handled.
Either way, getting the study done helps officials get a more solid grasp of the varied issues related to the policing question. “It seems like everybody is in agreement that we just need to get the analysis done,” Morse said. It’s too early to say what direction West Haven may go, she said. “We just want to see what the analysis says.”
Sheriff Ryan Arbon said he’s open to whatever West Haven officials choose to do. “We will fully support whichever decision or route they want to take with the law enforcement services,” he said.
Among the questions the consultant will study is the notion of creating a special policing district. Like a fire district, that would entail West Haven and other locales coming together to create a new taxing entity to oversee policing within their boundaries. Such a body would operate independently, like the Weber Fire District and North View Fire District, and have it’s own taxing authority.
Jensen said West Haven reps have broached the idea of a policing district with their counterparts in Hooper, Marriott-Slaterville, Farr West and Plain City. “They have some cautious interest in it as well,” he said. West Haven could even create a new police district just to cover the single city.
The cost for West Haven of contracting with the sheriff’s office for protection has increased from $1.03 million in 2018-2019 to $1.61 million for 2021-2022, a 56% jump in the span. Notable increases starting in fiscal year 2020-2021, according to Jensen, stemmed from staffing increases and new costs related to things like insurance and training. Whatever the case, that’s still lower than the $2.3 million estimate to create a new department that emerged from a look into the question in 2019, according to Bolos.
The city is mulling proposals from two firms and has budgeted $10,000 for a study, according to Jensen. He expects the City Council to select a consultant at the body’s June 16 meeting.