Helper debates city participation in drug task force
More than three months after Mayor Mike Dalpiaz announced Helper would not be participating in the Carbon Metro Drug Task Force, the city councilmembers questioned last week both the reasons for withdrawing and the legality of the mayor's actions.
With the support of Helper Police Chief George Zamantakis, the mayor notified the other members of the drug task force in a letter dated Aug. 29 that the city would not be part of the county-wide law enforcement agency as of Nov. 30.
The drug task force pulls much of the agency's funding from federal grants awarded to Price and the county along with revenues from the general funds of Price and Carbon government.
However, for participation in the drug task force, the remaining law enforcement agencies in the county pay a fee to cover utilities and rent for an office in Price.
Additional funds come from restitution from convicted drug offenders.
The task force works alongside existing law enforcement agencies, backing up investigations and supporting arrests, seizures and other actions.
However, Dalpiaz offered his opinion that Helper could better spend its participation fee of $1,500 on the city's police department rather than on the task force.
"I didn't ever think Helper got the bang for its buck from the drug task force," said the mayor.
Referring to his experience as a Helper city official, Dalpiaz indicated that the drug task force's effectiveness has been slipping in the past eight to 10 years.
Zamantakis agreed with the mayor's assessment and supported the city's withdrawal from the task force.
Zamantakis said the local police department has taken a lead role in drug investigations in Helper and would continue to do so whether the city was part of the drug task force or not.
"Our budget has taken a hit in the last four to five years," said the police chief.
Though not providing specifics, Zamantakis told the council that he had multiple concerns regarding the drug task force. The Helper police chief stated that, once the drug task force improved, he would be open to the option of the city police department's full participation in the county-wide agency.
"We can't help fix it by disengaging from the organization," countered Helper Councilmember Dean Armstrong. "Our withdrawal from the drug task force sends the message that Helper is not a good citizen in Carbon County."
Armstrong added that, although Helper may not have needed the task force's assistance recently, the situation could change.
Further, Armstrong contended that by participating in the task force, Helper was fighting drug problems in the surrounding communities.
"We're part of a larger community," pointed out Armstrong, adding that the city is affected by what happens in Spring Glen, Kenilworth and other unincorporated areas around Helper. "We're sending an isolationist message to the rest of Carbon County."
In addition, Armstrong and Helper Councilmember John Jones questioned whether the mayor and police chief have the authority to terminate the interlocal agreement governing the city's involvement in the drug task force.
Representative of Price city - one of the larger players in the task force also spoke in favor of Helper's continued participation in the county-wide law enforcement agency.
Mayor Joe Piccolo pointed out that Price city supports Helper's civic events and is willing to respond to Helper's requests for assistance.
"I believe what's good for Helper is good for Price city," said Piccolo.
The Price mayor also indicated that, if Helper continues to remain absent from the task force, he would support charging Helper for assisting in drug-related police actions in the city, up to the amount the city would pay annually if it were part of the task force.
No such policy is currently in place and Piccolo said that, for the time being, Price would offer assistance to Helper as if the town were a part of the task force.
Further, the Price mayor said the task force was never intended to be a primary law enforcement agency to combat a particular community's drug problems.
Rather, Piccolo pointed out that the task force is an ancillary force intended to provide support to the local agencies that lead drug investigations, seizures and arrests.
During the deliberation, Councilmember Chuck Buchanan said he had gathered multiple reasons why the city should participate in the task force.
Other than the cost, which he said could be justified, Buchanan indicated that he could not see one negative to Helper's involvement in the county-wide drug task force.
"Just because we are part of this county, we should be part of the drug task force," offered Councilmember Bob Farrell.
Farrell made a motion to rejoin the drug task force.
Farrell's motion received a second, but was ruled out of order by Dalpiaz before a vote could be called.
Armstrong and Jones added that if cost is an overwhelming reason not to be part of the task force, they would forego their own salaries - $200 per month - as councilmembers to help cover the cost.
City attorney Gene Strate indicated that there may be some validity to concerns regarding the mayor's legal authority to withdraw Helper from the drug task force without council approval.
The city's participation is governed by an interlocal agreement, signed in February 2000. Interlocal agreements are generally approved by the council.
If the council ratified Helper's involvement in the drug task force, Strate explained that a council action would be required to terminate the agreement.
Pending the city attorney's review of the interlocal contract and Helper's council minutes, Dalpiaz halted further discussion regarding the drug task force matter.