By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Fall River County’s agreement to provide law enforcement for the City of Edgemont was once again a topic of discussion during the latter half of the regular County Commission meeting held on Tuesday, Nov. 22, when it was pointed out by Auditor Sue Ganje that the county has not received a payment from Edgemont for those services since March 2016.
The current agreement, which has been in effect since November 2013 and is currently up for renewal, calls for monthly payments of $9,583.33 which total $115,000 annually, for the Fall River Sherriff’s Department to contractually serve as the City of Edgemont police force.
In order to get the agreement back into good standing, the City of Edgemont needs to pay $86,249.97 to finish out the remainder of the calendar year, Ganje said.
While it was not directly discussed during the meeting why the Edgemont has been withholding payment for the past eight months, it was the general assumption based on previous county commission meeting discussions that it was due to Edgemont Mayor Carl Shaw not being satisfied with the performance of the Sherriff’s Department in relation to their service in Edgemont.
Speaking on behalf of the Edgemont City Council and the Police and Safety Committee, Barbara Strozewski, who is a member of both, assured the commissioners that a full payment was on the Current Claims of Edgemont’s upcoming city council meeting for Dec. 6.
Also in attendance again at the commission meeting was Edgemont Mayor Carl Shaw, who questioned how the county originally came up with the annual $115,000 cost. He said he has inquired with other like-sized towns in the area to see how the cost compares, but did not have a full report available to share with the commissioners.
Neither the county nor the City of Edgemont have records of how the amount was determined, and for that reason, Edgemont Councilwoman Strozewski said it was a moot point.
Strozewski was in attendance to tell commissioners about a recent meeting of the three-person Edgemont Police and Safety Committee, where they had come to terms with Sheriff Bob Evans on a plan to renew the contract to have the Sheriff’s Department continue providing law enforcement for the City of Edgemont. With some minor wording changes from the previous agreement, she asking for the County to approve their plan so that she could bring it before the Edgemont City Council next.
In a letter dated Nov. 22 to the commissioners, Strozewski stressed that Mayor Shaw was a “non-voting, exofficio member” of the Police and Safety Committee, and as such, “has no authority to intervene in any regard on the decision or outcome of the police contract.”
Commissioner Mike Ortner, while recognizing the fact a mayor holds no voting power on a committee, disagreed however with a couple of Strozewski points, including the notion that the mayor has no authority in the matter, as he does hold the power of a veto with any decision the council makes. He also added that a committee can only make a recommendation, and that the final decision regarding the law enforcement contract must be approved by the full council before it can take effect.
Also speaking in support of Fall River County continuing to serve as Edgemont’s police force was Trudy Dibble, an Edgemont resident who has worked as the secretary of the Hot Springs Police Department for the past 19 years.
She said Edgemont is getting more than their money’s worth by having Fall River County perform law enforcement in Edgemont and strongly disagreed with Mayor Shaw’s contention that they have under performed during term of the current contract. Dibble said if Edgemont were to hire and train their own police force, they would find the cost to greatly exceed the $115,000 they are currently paying annually to Fall River County. Some of the costs so noted were the need to purchase their own radio frequency and also the cost to outfit vehicles. Additionally, she spoke very highly of the quality and experience for the personnel of the Sheriff’s Department, specifically Sheriff Evans, and also all of his deputies.
She said Mayor Shaw is being “short-sighted” in his criticism and that it is based only personal issues he has with the Fall River Sheriff’s Department.
The County Commissioners expressed a general desire to be in favor of the Sheriff’s Department continuing law enforcement in Edgemont, but did not vote for an extension of the contract due to its current state of being unpaid for the past seven-plus months.
Instead, the commission unanimously approved a motion by Joe Falkenburg to postpone action until after Edgemont’s Dec. 6 city council meeting where they would need to approve paying the county the past due balance of the current contract.