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Driggs and Teton County have entered into a joint powers agreement for enhanced law enforcement services.

Victor will begin discussion about its own contract 

This month, after many rounds of negotiations between the mayor, sheriff, prosecutor, and city attorney, Driggs and Teton County entered into a joint powers agreement for enhanced law enforcement services.

Enhanced Services?

In 2017 the city chose not to renew its $57,000-per-year contract with the Teton County Sheriff’s Office. Mayor Hyrum Johnson said at the time that the city wasn’t receiving the level of service it desired from the sheriff’s office and that Driggs citizens were being taxed twice for law enforcement. Disagreements between the mayor and then-Sheriff Tony Liford have also been cited as a reason for the end of the contract. The city has been receiving statutory service since then, meaning officers only enforce state statutes, not city ordinances like parking restrictions and leash laws.

“Frankly, we didn’t see much of a difference,” Johnson told the Teton Valley News last week about the end of enhanced services.

Victor, which has continued to pay for enhanced services, is asking itself the same question right now.

“We were talking about the sheriff’s contract quite often before Covid got in the way,” Mayor Will Frohlich said. “When I became mayor, I realized we need to look at any contract or agreement that’s in place to make sure the taxpayers of Victor are getting what they pay for. I am thankful for what the sheriff’s office does and think they do a great job but I don’t think they’re getting what they need and we aren’t either.”

Changing of the Guard

At the end of 2019 the mayor of Driggs floated the idea of a separate police department, which would cost several hundred thousand dollars a year.

The city council turned down the proposal, knowing that the upcoming 2020 election would bring a new sheriff to the law enforcement center.

During his campaign, Sheriff Clint Lemieux said that he wanted to work toward a new contract with the city.

After the election, the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s office sent both Victor and Driggs a proposal for a re-negotiation of services in April of 2021. County prosecutor Bailey Smith wrote in the letter to Victor, “The existing contracts between the County and the City leave significant room for improvement in terms of clarity and specificity. Additionally, as Sheriff Lemieux and I have also voiced, the current levels of law enforcement and prosecution services provided to the City are unfortunately not sustainable for the amounts that the City pays to the County.”

The county proposed a new compensation of approximately $134,000 per year for prosecution and law enforcement services.

“Mayor Frohlich and I started talking after we saw that, and his jaw dropped,” Johnson said. “I was less surprised. I had told council for years that we’re not budgeting enough for the services we’re asking for. Each year they’ve said, ‘it’s not an option, we don’t have it in the budget, what are the alternatives.’”

The suggestion arose that each city could fund half the cost of a county officer dedicated to serving the cities. Driggs and Victor are also exploring the possibility of a shared code enforcement officer.

However, Victor has not made any decisions yet. Frohlich said he expects to have a discussion with the city council at their second meeting at the end of October.

“My goal is that somewhere in the future, the cities and counties can sit down together and figure out, what does partnership look like going forward, and how can we find a solution that works for the whole community,” he said. “We’re not trying to reduce funding for the sheriff’s office, we’re trying to find an agreement that everyone is happy with.”

Sheriff Lemieux agreed that it was past time to have the discussion with Victor. “I think it needs to be done, to get everyone up to date, and working with both cities to maybe streamline the process so that their ordinances and verbiages line up,” he said. “If we’re all on the same page, it makes our job easier.”

Driggs and County Strike a Deal

Recently, Driggs and the county have landed on a new, lower price tag for service: $45,000 per year, not including prosecutorial services.

In exchange, the sheriff’s office will provide 20 hours of dedicated patrol time to the city, and will give the city a quarterly report on hours of police presence, number and type of calls for service, citations issued, and any requests or concerns from officers regarding the city’s ordinances or transportation network.

“This agreement is a product of many months of discussion and countless back-and-forths on drafts. I think it’s a win all around,” Prosecutor Smith told the county commissioners on Sept. 24 before they signed the final contract.

“I feel great about it,” Sheriff Lemieux said about reaching an agreement. “Bailey has been a huge help in making this happen.”

As part of the agreement, at its Sept. 21 meeting the Driggs City Council approved a new prosecution contract in which the city will pay city attorney Sam Angell $3,000 per month to prosecute misdemeanor and infraction violations that occur within the city.

“I’m excited about it,” Johnson said about the agreement with the county. “I view it as a step forward in the effort to try and cooperate. I also view it as an opportunity to collect data on what is happening in town.”

He said that ideally, with a dedicated presence in the city, the sheriff’s office will address the complaints Johnson hears most often from residents: speeding in certain parts of town; motorized vehicles on sidewalks and pathways; loose dogs; and littering (including gravel from truck traffic).

Lemieux said that with an officer staying in the city limits for 20 hours per week, he expects to see more proactive policing on those issues that cause consternation for residents.

“It’s a lot easier to respond to a call when you’re already there in Driggs, instead of coming from elsewhere in the county,” the sheriff said. “And we’ll be able to do more self-initiated contacts. I think we’ll be able to help out and give high level service to Driggs.”

“I really hope this will yield a tangible difference,” Johnson said. “I think the county wanted it as much as we did.”