Majority of force commutes
With a multitude of new homes and condominiums slated to be built in the town of Mt. Crested Butte, the police department is facing the same challenge many of the town’s other departments face—preparing for the effects of growth with a short supply of money to do so.
Funding for additional coverage in the police department is one of the questions the Town Council is now discussing as part of an ongoing series of work sessions to create a five-year financial plan for the town.
Mt. Crested Butte police chief Hank Smith says dealing with growth is a serious issue the police department must eventually face. Smith says as the town grows there will inevitably be more requests for service from the police. Many new residents and visitors, Smith says, expect that adequate coverage will be provided.
Town manager Joe Fitzpatrick agrees, and says around-the-clock police availability is a must. “If we get 600,000 skiers we’ll have more and more of that need during the nighttime and early morning hours,” he says.
Finding additional funds for the police department may prove to be difficult. Town Council member William Buck says, “We can’t develop or maintain our own roads. Roads are our highest priority, and when there’s no money to fix infrastructure we get concerned about everything below it, including the police.”
Smith says there is no clear-cut solution.
Another question is how the town will provide adequate 24-hour coverage if the only police officer who lives in town decides to retire.
“The biggest challenge is police officers not living in town that can’t respond to citizens’ needs efficiently,” Fitzpatrick says.
Smith says it’s unlikely his replacement or new recruits will be able to live in Mt. Crested Butte because the cost of living, let alone buying a house, is too high. He says two officers currently live as close as Crested Butte South, but the remainder live near Gunnison.
Smith says, “I’m the only officer who lives in Mt. Crested Butte. I have been for a while.”
Fitzpatrick says there are two potential answers: the town can either create housing for police officers to live in, or hire more officers so coverage can be more adequately provided. In current funding scenarios the town is considering hiring one to two more officers by the year 2012.
Smith says the possibility for a retirement investment is lost in deed restricted housing the town could provide, which may discourage potential recruits. “We don’t have a real pension here,” Smith says. “People can’t count on that as a basis to retire… I have to rely on the sale of my house to retire,” Smith says.
Fitzpatrick says retirement plans are being investigated, but since town staff is still researching options the issue hasn’t been brought to the Town Council.
Providing a competitive salary to offset the cost of living is also important, says finance director Karl Trujillo. He says some former officers and potential recruits have been lured by law enforcement jobs on the Front Range, and while the salaries may not be higher, the cost of living is lower.
Fitzpatrick agrees, and says, “If we could find a way to provide decent wages and provide housing, we’re going to get more people who will want to move here, put their kids in school, and make it their home.”
Even while meeting these requirements, Trujillo says the town still must consider the cost of training and equipping an officer.
Smith says training and attending law enforcement classes is an unending process for police officers. On top of that, uniforms, weapons, vehicles and other equipment must be issued, although some are often re-used. The total price of equipping and training a new police officer could be close to $80,000, he estimates.
Buck says it hasn’t been determined what avenue the council and town will take to solve the problem. “We’re stressed out,” he says.
The most viable option seems to be a mil levy increase, which the Town Council and staff have been discussing at length during work sessions. Buck says the Mt. Crested Butte economy is changing from tourist-based to lifestyle-based, meaning more people will come to Mt. Crested Butte to live rather than just vacation.
The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council is considering proposing a mil levy increase of five mils on the November 2008 ballot. The next work session is scheduled for March 4 at 5 p.m.