Monticello Police Department disbanded effective June 30. San Juan County Sheriffs Department contracts to provide law enforcement services. Pioneer Day gets green light

The Monticello Police Department will be disbanded on June 30 and law enforcement services will be contracted through the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department. 

A contract for the change was approved at the June 9 meeting of the Monticello City Council.

The five-year contract between the city and county is $230,000 per year. The contract is roughly based upon $100,000 for two officers and $30,000 in administrative costs.

Monticello City police vehicles and equipment will be transferred to the Sheriff’s department. The new contract accounts for that transfer.

The annual city budget for law enforcement has been approximately $335,000.

The Monticello City Justice Court will continue to operate. The Justice Court has had annual expenditures of roughly $120,000 and generates more than $200,000 a year in fines and forfeitures.

Tickets issued within the city will continue to go through the justice court.

City officials said they faced a number of issues that resulted in the decision, including increasing costs and the challenge of recruiting, training, and retaining officers.

The department was called a “revolving door” regarding employee turnover, and the issue has grown worse in recent months.

The department started the year with three officers, including Korey Dunn, Avery Olson, and Chief Clayton Black.  Olson transferred to another agency and Dunn recently moved, leaving Chief Black as the only employee.

Mayor Tim Young said, “It is frustrating to not get good candidates.  There is a nationwide and statewide shortage of officers, and we don’t pay that great.”

Young said law enforcement officers generally average 1,500 calls per year, but the entire department had just 530 calls in the past year.  

“We are spending about $500 a call on average,” said Young.

Chief Black will be hired by the Sheriff’s department. Officers will patrol the city 80 hours a week, which is similar to the current level of coverage.

Seven Sheriff’s Deputies live in Monticello, and the Sheriff’s Department headquarters is in Monticello.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Doug Allen expressed concern about the “decision to do away with the police department.”

“If you vote now, you will never have it again,” said Allen, who suggested the Council should delay the action and seek more public input.

“The public doesn’t know this is about to happen,” added Allen.  “You ought to have some public hearings to see if the public really wants their police force disbanded.”

Allen said, “We need to get our priorities straight. I know things are tough now, but it can be worked through.  It takes management and courage on the city council to make it happen.”

Allen said the golf course is projected to lose $161,000 in the next year and suggested that the golf course should be where the cuts come from rather than the police budget.

Councilmember Kim Henderson said, “We have done a lot of research and talked to a lot of people and, unfortunately, we don’t have another option.”

Councilmember George Rice expressed excitement, stating, “There are some benefits to this, there are some seriously good benefits to this.” He included training, equipment, and continuity as benefits.

Rice added, “Cities are running out of money for police departments, and that was before the current protests.”

Councilmember Ron Skinner said, “I hate to see this, but I don’t know what else we could do.”

Skinner added that the Sheriff has access to significant resources the city does not have, including investigation, evidence control, administrative support, dispatch, and public relations.

Skinner said the coverage will include animal control, city ordinance enforcement, traffic enforcement, citizen complaints, and interactions with the schools.

He added, “Response time on calls may not be affected because the Sheriff’s Department is headquartered here.”

Kim Henderson said the city discussed contracting with the county for partial services rather than “completely dissolving” the police department but said, “It has never been something they have been willing to do on a long-term basis… The Sheriff indicated no interest in this...  It is all or none.”

Rice motioned to accept the contract, and it was seconded by Skinner.  The motion passed with a 5-0 vote.

Mayor Tim Young said, “This is a hard decision but not a hasty decision. We have worked on it for a couple of years.

“There will be upset citizens, but once they understand, I think that we will look back and see that it was beneficial to the City of Monticello.”

In other matters at the June 9 Council meeting, the annual Pioneer Day celebration received a green light, as long as the State of Utah doesn’t give it an orange or red light.

The council moved forward on approving a 12-team fast pitch softball tournament for the event, which will take place on July 24 and 25.

The 2020 version of the annual celebration will also include additional activities, all adjusted to accommodate social distancing and sanitizing requirements related to the coronavirus pandemic.

This may include fireworks, a parade, and food and craft vendors.

Recreation Director Shayne Christensen told the council that a decision was needed to plan for the event.

Councilmember Bayley Hedglin – who coordinates the celebration in conjunction with the San Juan Chamber of Commerce – agreed, “We need to know now; we can’t wait until two weeks before and try to pull it off.”

Christensen said as many as 18 teams had expressed interest in the tournament.  The Council finally approved a 12-team tournament.

Christensen said he had visited with the public health department, who suggested they need to follow the guidelines and they are okay.

“We are currently yellow, which means we can do it,” said Christensen.

The Council initially considered a motion to cancel the tournament entirely, but it was defeated by a 3-2 vote.

There were several additional motions cancelling or restricting the tournament. The eventual motion for a 12-team tournament passed unanimously.

The Council instructed the city to work closely with public health officials as planning moves forward.

The annual Pioneer Day celebration can move ahead as long as the state is in yellow or green status. If it changes to orange or red, the celebration will be cancelled.

The Council approved the 2021 budget and adopted the certified tax rate for the fiscal year which begins on July 1.

City Manager Doug Wright budgeted based on an estimated 15 percent reduction in sales tax revenues.

Wright added that there would be an additional $6,000 in property tax revenue, due in part to new growth.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Dustin Randall brought up a host of problems at the truck parking area near his home on Main Street and 100 North.

Randall said the area is “the eyesore of the town” and described dirt, trash, weeds, public urination, noise, and more.

“There has got to be a way to clean it up,” added Randall.

City Recorder Cindi Holyoak said there are violations of city ordinances every day at the parking area, including dust, noise, trash, brakes, public indecency, and drug use.

Holyoak said that several years ago, previous City Manager Ty Bailey worked with the property owner and implemented “a few weed patrols” and added some dumpsters, but added, “We haven’t worked on them for awhile.”

It was recommended that the City Attorney send a letter to the landowner and “take some kind of action.”

Visitor Center employee Ellen Cantrell asked why the visitor center was still not open.

Later in the meeting, it was announced that the center would reopen in coming days. 

Wright added that the winter hours at the visitor center may need to be adjusted depending on the financial status of the city.

Five candidates for the city manager position were interviewed by a hiring committee. It is expected that a new city manager will be announced in the coming days.

Doug Wright is set to retire on June 30.

Empire Electric is installing an electric vehicle charging station near the Visitor Center.

A new United States flag will be purchased for the city office after a local resident complained that the prior flag was tattered.

In a discussion about a federal grant to cover COVID-19-related expenditures, Wright reported that the city has had no lost expenditures due to the pandemic.

San Juan Record

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