Does Portola pay enough for law enforcement?

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

 

The city of Portola contracts with the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office for its law enforcement. And that $130,000 contract was set to be renewed by the Board of Supervisors as part of its Sept. 14 consent agenda, but that didn’t happen.

 

“I don’t think that even comes close to what we’re spending,” said Board Chairman Jeff Engel who removed the item for discussion.

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County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick said he reached out to City Manager Lauren Knox about a year ago regarding the contract and its amount. “This agreement gives me a whole lot of heartburn,” he said. Hydrick added that the city has been receptive to discussing it.

 

For many years the contract amount had been $100,000 and though it has been discussed often in the past, the contract has been renewed. But this year, changes were added. It asks that a sheriff’s representative attend each city council meeting and that the department provide animal control services. “Does anyone have any idea what it would cost to set up a police department for city?” Hydrick asked, and then answered, “three to six million conservatively … They aren’t even paying close to their fair share.”

 

Hydrick said that based on usage, the contract amount should be “about $877,000 up to $1.6 million of actual costs.”

 

Hydrick acknowledged that the city owns the sheriff’s substation in town and leases it to the county at no cost.

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While the cost has always been an issue, this year the county estimates it will be removing at least $35 million from its property tax rolls due to Dixie Fire losses.

 

Hydrick said he wished the city would proactively step up and pay its fair share because it’s a “big ask for the residents of the county to subsidize the city.”

 

Former Sheriff and current District 4 Supervisor Greg Hagwood is very familiar with the contract, as well as the amount of service required by the city. He said Portola represents about 10 percent of the population but “have a disproportionate high call for service.” He cited burglaries, assaults, coroner cases and others as statistically and consistently over performing.

 

He said that while “they should contribute 10 percent of the sheriff’s budget, the idea of them getting to that point is probably not attainable.” He added that there was a time when city was receiving the full complement of services with no reimbursement at all. He said, “$130,000 is a symbolic token … but it’s unacceptable.”

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District 2 Supervisor Kevin Goss suggested that the city put out a request for proposals from other entities, such as the city of Reno, to see what it would cost to receive services.”

 

However Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns brought up an obvious point. “Those people are still residents of Plumas County,” he said though he does agree that there should be a negotiation, and it should happen fairly quickly.

 

“He makes an excellent point and it’s accurate,” Hagwood said, and added that the “citizens of Portola should not be penalized due to their city council’s unwillingness or inability to do what needs to be done.”

 

District 1 Supervisor Dwight Ceresola, whose district includes Portola, suggested that the item be discussed again during the Sept. 21 meeting, after Hydrick had a chance to talk to the city again. However, that date will be sometime in the future as Hydrick continues to work with the city.

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During a follow-up on Monday, Sept. 20 Hydrick said he spoke with City Manager Lauren Knox last week and she will be working with other city officials. He said he has since learned that code enforcement isn’t included (an issue he had brought up during the board meeting), but there are other details to work through. “I’ll provide an update to the BOS and bring it back in the near future. Portola has been great to work with,” he concluded.

 

City response

 

When Plumas News reached out to the city for comment, City Manager Lauren Knox said that she and the city council’s ad hoc committee composed of council members Tom Cooley and Pat Morton have been discussing the issue. Additionally, the city’s fiscal officer and attorney have been consulted. She said the main question to be answered is “How do we figure out what our fair share is?”

 

During a discussion Sept. 20, the conversation turned to what services the city does fund, how other cities fund their police departments and what amenities or services do residents gain from residing in the city. These are all topics that are addressed periodically — often when discussing budget issues or services that residents want — such as more snow plowing or potholes being filled.

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She and the committee will continue to work with the county to work on an equitable solution to funding the contract.