The city of Hayden has a tax on the November ballot to fund an increase in the city’s law enforcement budget, which would nearly double the number of deputies assigned to the city through a contract with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.
The city does not have its own police department and has been paying for the equivalent of 3.5 deputies to patrol the city for years. Mayor Steve Griffitts said that three years ago, Sheriff Ben Wolfinger recommended that the city have between 17 and 22 deputies, based on the population.
“That seemed really high to me,” Griffitts said.
The city did research and created a task force to study the issue before deciding to request a property tax increase to bring in an additional $403,506 to increase the number of deputies assigned to the city to 7.5.
“This is a perfect example of a democracy,” Griffitts said. “We had a citizens task force that took data and over months really crunched that data. Then a recommendation was made to the City Council. The voters are going to decide.”
The tax would increase property taxes by 26 cents per $1,000 in assessed home value.
“Why did it take us three years?” Griffitts said. “Because we wanted to do this right. This has been the best process ever. It just took a long time.”
Increasing the number of deputies will decrease response times and ensure the city has police coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Griffitts said.
That doesn’t always happen now, he said. “There have been eight times in the last three months we have had no coverage in the city of Hayden,” he said.
Compared to its neighbors, Hayden pays remarkably little for its law enforcement. In 2018, the city spent $19.46 per citizen on police patrol costs. In Coeur d’Alene that number was $289.50 per citizen, and in Post Falls it was $187.33 per citizen.
Hayden currently pays the sheriff’s office about $323,000 a year out of the general fund, which is much less than the city would pay for its own department, Griffitts said.
“The partnership we have with the county saves us hundreds of thousands of dollars per year,” he said.
According to the FBI, county agencies across the nation reported having an average of 2.8 officers per 1,000 residents in 2018. Hayden has about 15,000 residents. Even if the number of deputies is increased to 7.5, it will still be well below the national average.
Crime reports show the number of crimes in Hayden is increasing as the population grows. The numbers have been trending upward since 2007, with some spikes and drops along the way. The biggest recent spike was in 2017, when 1,223 crimes were reported, compared to 1,106 in 2016 and 1,088 in 2018.
The high numbers in 2017 were driven in large part by an increase in thefts, nonresidential burglaries and drug cases.
The city hopes a larger number of assigned deputies will allow for expanded proactive patrols and community policing.
“If this doesn’t pass, we’ll stay at 3.5,” Griffitts said. “Hopefully we can stay at 3.5. Their costs are increasing.”
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Oct. 28, 2019 to correct the amount the city of Hayden pays the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office each year to provide policing services. The city pays $323,000, not $1.4 million.
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