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Gold Hill wants to pay less for sheriff's patrols

GOLD HILL - If a more affordable contract isn't negotiated between the city and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department by June 30, law enforcement protection to residents will default to emergency response only.

City Council members voted to terminate the current contract effective June 30 in hopes of negotiating a lower hourly rate for law enforcement services.

"The terms of the present contract are not incredibly generous," said councilman Rob Lowe.

Other council members and City Recorder Tony Paxton expressed concern that the current rate, $61 an hour, was too steep for the city's budget.

"A lot of that is fringe," Paxton said. "We're paying for depreciation on the sheriff's building and cars. All that's administration charges we shouldn't be paying."

The city transferred $10,000 from an inactive system maintenance fund to pay the remainder of the current contract. An initial transfer of $10,000 from the contingency fund in January was expected to pay the bills through June 30, but Paxton said the city was billed for more hours than expected. The higher costs of the contract, plus a $37,000 settlement with former police chief Katie Holmboe, had depleted the $69,000 public safety fund faster than expected, Paxton said.

Sheriff Bob Kennedy said he was open to negotiation but that the hourly rate would be difficult to change.

"I'm happy to try to go a different direction to meet the needs of the city, but it's going to be fairly difficult to negotiate the hourly price," Kennedy said. "The county has an adopted formula."

Kennedy said his department already was providing Gold Hill with services for which it was not being reimbursed, such as DARE classes, detective work and serving papers.

"What I've tried to make the city understand is that there are a lot of things we've done that we haven't billed them for," he said. "We've only been billing between $1,500 and $2,000 (a month). It's probably, if you factor the amount of time spent, actually closer to $5,000."

Kennedy said if a new contract could not be negotiated, the city would receive emergency protection by default.

"I'd be required by law to respond to emergency calls," he said.

Paxton said while the city was working on a long-term solution to its law enforcement needs, a new contract likely would be needed regardless for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

A survey sent to residents with water bills last week will be used to direct the council on a long-term solution.

Possibilities include relying on emergency coverage only at no cost to the city; incorporating into the county service district; or approving an operating levy to fund either a new police department or further contracts.

Paxton said surveys were due back at City Hall May 15 in order for results to be processed and presented to council members in June.