County commissioners moved Monday to cut the Teton County Sheriff’s Office overtime budgets in half, but the board members said they will consider allocating the department additional funds for speed patrols.
Sheriff Matt Carr told the Jackson Hole Daily that the public is “screaming” for additional speed enforcement.
There is some tension between that need and cuts to overtime budgets for the Teton County Jail, the sheriff’s operational budget and the sheriff’s communication budget, which funds Teton County’s 911 dispatch center.
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners and Sheriff’s Office engage in a budgetary tango every year. State statute gives the commission control over other county elected offices’ purse strings.
Part of the reason for the cuts, proposed by commission Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker, was to trim budget line items that used to set aside money that paid overtime for the formerly understaffed dispatch center. Because that operation is now fully staffed, Macker proposed reducing the overtime.
The cuts, which will not be finalized until budget discussions conclude in June, would amount to roughly $150,000. In all, $90,000 would come from the operational budget, $32,500 from the communication budget and $30,000 from the jail budget.
Carr supported that Monday, but asked the commission to be prepared to spend more if the need arose. That could happen because sheriff’s deputies often provide security on overtime for summertime events, and the upcoming season is expected to be busy. Additional speed enforcement could also require deputies to work more, he said.
“I’ve got to bring people in on an overtime basis to do this,” Carr said.
How the county would fund additional speed enforcement — if it does at all — remains to be seen.
Spending on patrols has been a community discussion since last summer, when a number of moose were killed on Highway 390, also known as Moose-Wilson Road or, colloquially, the Village Road.
After the ungulates died, a group of West Bank residents and valley wildlife advocates banded together and raised about $25,000 for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation. The Sheriff’s Office then invoiced the nonprofit and paid its deputies overtime to patrol the Village Road at twilight as the day and night shifts transitioned.
That program got the kibosh after Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Erin Weisman raised legal questions about how deputies involved were being paid.
Carr, however, said he’d continued patrols in recent months — periods of wildlife migration — with money he had left over in his budgets for the 2021 fiscal year, which ends in July.
On Monday, commission Vice-Chair Luther Propst proposed setting aside $20,000 for speed enforcement, particularly during spring and fall wildlife movement. Carr expressed interest and proposed creating a fund that would allow him to do that and monitor “exactly where” that money is going.
“The overtime thing we’ve already cut in half, so I would not feel comfortable dipping into that,” Carr told commissioners. “But I would if there was a certain line item in there for speed enforcement.”
Carr is set to present more information Monday about the past few months of enforcement, and told the Daily he’s not just interested in Highway 390 and preventing wildlife deaths.
“My bigger concern for public safety is the county roads,” the sheriff said, adding that he’s worried about how quickly some people drive on quieter, county roads after sitting in summer traffic on busier, state thoroughfares like Highways 22 and 390.
It’s unclear what direction the commission, which requires a 3-vote majority to make a decision, will take.
Macker said this week she was intrigued by the idea of a special fund but concerned about “how the public is requesting and directing certain types of law enforcement activity.”
Commissioner Mark Newcomb said he was for “cautiously sticking a toe in this water,” recognizing that “the angst in the community over speeds is higher than it ever has been.”