Helper council decides to explore law enforcement options with sheriff's office
After a long heated debate at the city's last meeting, the Helper council passed a resolution to explore putting the town under the jurisdiction of the Carbon County Sheriff's Office.
Councilmember Dean Armstrong asked to have an item on the agenda at the Jan. 17 meeting to allow himself and interested Helper officials to enter into a discussion with Carbon Sheriff James Cordova about providing public safety services to Helper.
"I just want it known that I am adamantly opposed to this," said Mayor Mike Dalpiaz. "It's just the worst thing I can think of."
Armstrong forged ahead despite the growing tension in the room filled with approximately 30 residents.
"I'd like to point out that simply asking a question is not inherently a bad thing," said the council member.
Armstrong explained that his desire to talk with the sheriff's department was centered around discovering whether Helper might benefit from being part of a larger public safety system.
"All I am looking for is a resolution to allow the discussion to explore the possibilities," said the councilmember. "I just want to talk about it and look at any advantages. When was the last time we sat down and discussed Helper's public safety department?"
The mayor made it clear that the sheriff's office had not initiated the discussion.
"Sheriff Cordova is not trolling after Helper," said Dalpiaz.
The mayor also questioned the item being placed on the particular meeting agenda.
"The timing on this is very, very terrible," said Dalpiaz.
Armstrong's suggestion came on the heels of the Jan. 9 resignation of former police chief George Zamantakis and the appointment of Trent Anderson as the temporary replacement to fill the vacancy.
The mayor then admonished Armstrong and Councilmember John Jones.
"You, Mr. Armstrong, and you, Mr. Jones, were just praising our department," said Dalpiaz.
Jones did not let the mayor's comments slide.
"I'm in no way, shape or form against this police department," said Jones. "I just want to look at if there may be a way to make it better."
Throughout the debate, the councilmembers who supported opening the discussion insisted that they thought, even if there was a change that Helper's five officers would be retained and transitioned to the sheriff's department.
"It would be my hope everyone of these officers will still be with us," said Armstrong.
However, despite Armstrong's assurance that it wasn't an attack on the capabilities of Helper's officers and department there were many in the room that took it just that way.
"This is personal to me," Helper postman Mark Montoya.
Montoya came prepared with an impassioned statement he had written out before the meeting. He criticized Armstrong and Jones for what he called lack of vision for the city's future by supporting a pool, but suggesting the demise of a local police department.
"Explain to me how taking away an amenity like the police department would be good for the city," said Montoya. "They (the police) have always been there for me providing comfort and support. If we were to do this I think it would about be the beginning of the end of our town."
But many residents at the meeting supported at least being allowed to have conversations about the changes.
"The only way I can have an opinion about this is to have more facts, " said resident Marilou Kundmueller. "I would love to know more. It raises a million questions in my mind and I would be willing to write these down and get the answers."
The audience appeared to be evenly divided about the matter.
In addition, the logistical problems the changes could possibly create were brought to the table for examination.
Councilman Larry Ganser said his discussion with the sheriff made it clear to him that Helper could not afford the switch.
"The sheriff told me he pays his sergeant $22 an hour. Our police chief doesn't even make that," said Ganser. "If we think we are going to save money by doing this it's not going to happen."
Dalpiaz reminded the council and crowd that, if the city were to do away with the police department, Helper would also have do away with its justice court.
"We have our own courts if we go under the county the revenues that come to us (Helper) would have to go to the county," said the mayor.
It appeared, as the night wore on, that the resolution would be quashed.
In the end, however, Armstrong's insistence that he was only trying to gather information and the support of other councilmembers and many residents turned the tide.
"All this is is a fact finding mission," said Councilman P.J. Jensen.