Friday, February 03, 2023

Hayden to pursue $600,000 law enforcement levy

Staff Writer | August 10, 2022 1:06 AM

Hayden is moving forward with plans to increase its police presence.

The Hayden City Council during its regular meeting Tuesday evening voted in favor of asking voters

to consider an override levy of nearly $600,000 to pay for six additional Kootenai County Sheriff's Office deputies to cover Hayden, which presently contracts with four.

The vote was 3-1 with Councilwoman Sandra White giving the lone dissenting vote.

Members of the Hayden Citizen Task Force spent the past four months researching the city's public safety needs. Task force spokesperson Nancy Jones, who joined the meeting remotely, said the citizen commission found school safety and the safety of deputies to be of utmost importance.

"The task force members repeatedly expressed their support for ensuring the presence of trained law enforcement in our Hayden schools," she said. "We heard arguments that this should fall upon the school district. In the end, we decided we were more concerned about the imminent safety of our students than pointing fingers about who should bear that cost."

She said Hayden's officers and residents are not as safe as they could be.

"Calls for service in Hayden are up 60% over the last 10 years, and yet the number of follow-ups and arrests is down," Jones said. "From that, we can see a lack of accountability that comes with not having enough officers."

She said information from the sheriff's office revealed some calls take 40 minutes or longer before officers can enter certain dangerous situations.

"They cannot enter because it's not safe to go without backup," Jones said.

Also driving the recommendation for the levy override is a city budget that is not sustainable for the city's law enforcement needs.

"None of us want higher taxes, none of us," Jones said. "But none of us want to lose a good officer like Greg Moore again either, and our officers are not safe."

Using 2021 levy rates, this levy override would increase taxes on an average $500,000 house by about $145 per year or $12 per month. City Administrator Brett Boyer said those numbers are expected to slightly change once 2022 levy rates are used in the calculations.

Hayden Mayor Scott Forssell said considering what other cities in the region and state pay for law enforcement — including municipalities similar in size to Hayden paying $2 million for police services — $600,000 is a bargain.

"If we can provide safety to the men and women we depend on to save our lives and jump into the line of danger for us, $600,000 is a song," Forssell said. "I strongly support the task force recommendation on this."

Councilman Ed DePriest said he went on a ride-along with the sheriff's office Friday. He said although Hayden doesn't have a lot of violent crime, dangerous issues are increasing.

"We need this," he said. "I recommend everybody go on a ride-along and see the reality of what's happening here."

He said it's not up to him, but to the people of Hayden.

"Put it on the ballot," he said. "I'm not saying I want to raise taxes. I'm not saying they should be raised. I'm saying people should have the opportunity to say yes or no."

City Attorney Fonda Jovick said city staff will draft the ballot language and evaluate the viability of getting on the November ballot.

"We have to certify by Sept. 18, which is a really short timeframe," Jovick said.

Staff will bring research and information back to the board at an upcoming meeting.

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