Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Assembly debates police issues


After reviewing a large budget increase for the police department, the Haines Borough Assembly discussed a host of police issues during a budget hearing Tuesday evening.

Assembly member Heather Lende asked staff to come up with a number for how much a new officer would cost, and interim borough manager Brad Ryan quoted a price tag of $97,000 for wages and benefits, but not including additional equipment and training the officer might need.

“That’s what we think the fifth officer costs,” Ryan said. “We adjusted some overtime, because we think that’s realistic.”

Ryan said the overall increase to the police budget is about $54,000.

Assembly member Tom Morphet disputed that estimate, saying the coming year’s budget represented a $152,000 increase over the amount budgeted a year ago.

The amount actually spent during the current year is expected to be $618,000, compared to a budget of $520,000 approved last May. The mid-year bump included a $63,000 amendment for increased overtime and standby hours, a pay raise for officers approved last July and expenses incurred from hiring a new police chief.

The department is planning to spend $672,000 in the coming year.

Ron Jackson asked what assumptions were made in the budget for policing outside the townsite. The borough administration is holding public meetings aimed at seeing what interest residents living outside the townsite have in receiving police coverage, which is limited to the townsite.

“I don’t know how to address the response to (policing) outside of the townsite because we don’t know what level we’re doing that,” Ryan said. “It seems to be going up so I don’t want to mislead people and say this is going to cover out of town site response.”

Morphet said the assembly should wait for people outside the townsite to determine what they want in terms of police service before making any decisions on how to plan for it.

Assembly member Mike Case said police should respond to emergency services no matter what people say they want. He referenced an incident last year of a shooting where a toddler was present.

Police chief Heath Scott said he formed his current year budget to get back to a baseline, and not to police outside the townsite, but to be able to provide assists to the state trooper or wildlife officer.

“We stepped way from our baseline, which was five officers in the townsite,” Scott said. “Unfortunately we lost the trooper, so I think we have to find out what the residents in the townsite and out of the town site want and come to some consensus and try to tackle that within the budget, but this was really for just assists.”

Assembly member Tresham Gregg said he wondered if the assembly should look at alternate ways of tackling issues like drug problems other than with punitive enforcement.

“Are we really on the right page?” Gregg asked. “Are we really looking in the right direction or is there an alternative approach?”

Morphet said the police have always had high turnover and the community needs to have a discussion about how it wants policing to look.

“As far as I can tell all we’re changing is adding an officer back to a situation we had, and for years we had a five man police department that had a lot of problems with high turnover and alienation and crimes that didn’t get solved because police didn’t have community support,” Morphet said.

Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer said the assembly shouldn’t hold a standard to what happened in the past, especially when there’s new leadership and police involved.

“We can’t sit here and debate philosophies of policing,” Friedenauer said. “We’ve hired the philosophy of policing that we want for the community and that is in chief Scott. Do I agree with him all the time, probably not, but he is the chief and he is the philosophy that we hired and that is the type of policing that, for now, we are supportive of.”

Scott told the assembly he has no way of communicating with the assembly about confidential or private matters in order to update them on what the police are doing around town.

“If you want to know what’s going on with the police department, my expectation is you develop some type of situation, some type of forum for me to come in and brief you, otherwise you’re making assertions or you’re coming up with sometimes wrong opinions on these things,” Scott said.

Other discussion centered on forming or expanding service areas to pay for police service outside the townsite.

Lende said before the assembly takes on any police planning outside the townsite they should concretely identify what is expected.

“The only way, by our code, that we can have police protection outside of the townsite service area where it’s been approved by ordinance is to create a service area for police protection outside the townsite,” Lende said.

Borough chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart said they could look at the option of rededicating sales tax revenues, which accounts for 43 percent of the police budget, to pay for increased police protection.

“Which is paid, I would argue, equally by people inside and outside the townsite as well as visitors,” Stuart said. “It’s only roughly a quarter of the police department budget that’s paid for with property tax paid by the people who live in the townsite.”

Only 26 percent of police funding comes from townsite property tax. The remainder of the police budget comes from state money to support a jail here.

The assembly will further discuss the budget next week.


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