Lemhi Sheriff wants city to pay its way on dispatch center


SALMON — Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman said Salmon residents likely would see a reduction in their taxes and more efficiency if city and county law enforcement were consolidated in his office.

The proposal was one of three Bowerman presented Friday to the Salmon City Council to address a years-long stalemate over whether the city should help pay for a law enforcement dispatch center overseen by the Sheriff’s Office, but which mostly handles calls from Salmon residents.

The city’s handshake agreement to help finance the service was nixed several years ago by the mayor at the time, John Miller.

An $84,000 annual funding gap had strained his budget and personnel, Bowerman said, at a time when about 57 percent of calls to the dispatch center are from Salmon and about 43 percent from the county; and when a “noticeable” number of city residents have complained that certain police failed to respond to their concerns.

Bowerman said he was willing and able to run the dispatch center on behalf of the city, provided it paid its way.

Failing that, Bowerman said, “I plan on cutting all dispatch services to the city except 911 calls and any felony in progress calls come October 1.”

Bowerman proposed a measure that would see the city formalize a yearly payment of $84,000 for the service and maintain the status quo at each law enforcement agency.

He raised consolidation of law enforcement agencies as an alternative option to address the city’s worries about expenditures, as well as a claim by Salmon Police Chief K.V. Felker that earmarking monies for the dispatch center would mean the layoff of two officers.

“That’s the only way I can afford to do it,” Felker said at the meeting.

It costs more than $900,000 a year to run the dispatch center in combination with 911 and jail services, according to the county, which estimated it would cost upward of $400,000 for the city to underwrite its own dispatch service without the 911 and detention components.

Bowerman presented two different consolidation plans, one that would see an annual savings to the city of $100,000 after three years amid phased-in reductions that ultimately eliminate an animal control officer, whose duties would be performed by deputies. Under that proposal, a deputy would be on patrol at all times in the city and another in the county.

Under an alternative plan that Bowerman said he least preferred, the city could immediately contract with the county for a savings of $100,000 for each governmental unit if four positions in the Salmon Police Department were eliminated.

Both consolidation proposals would see the salary for Felker drop from nearly $58,000 a year to about $50,000.

Felker was against the proposals, saying, “That’s not going to benefit this community one bit.”

Councilman Jim Bockelman urged a swift resolution.

“The sheriff is providing a service and the city needs to pay for that service. We need to move on this,” he said.

Councilman Jim Baker said time was needed to examine and discuss the ramifications of the options, particularly those tied to a topic as weighty as consolidation.

The city intends to take up matters tied to the dispatch center and law enforcement at a 4 p.m. budget workshop June 4.