In March 1974, the Board of County Commissioners and the City of Pratt entered into an agreement to construct a new law enforcement center for their mutual operation and agreed on how the building would be used and maintained. In 2003, the agreement was updated, and city commissioners agreed at their meeting Monday that it is time to take another look.
The working agreement that has evolved doesn't look much like the contract, said Ken Van Blaricum, who is both the city and county attorney.
By the agreement, the LEC is divided into three areas: the county area, the city area, and the common area. The city is responsible for cleaning, maintenance and repair of its own area. The two entities share utilities. The county is responsible for providing telephone operation and a distribution system or server for use by both. In lieu of rent on the county-owned building, city provides round-the-clock dispatching for city and county law enforcement officers, emergency medical services, and since the agreement was last updated, all firefighting units in the county.
Dispatching services have increased significantly, and the city "is coming up on the short end of the stick," Police Chief Gary Myers said at a joint meeting of city and county commissions on Oct. 7. He suggested, "the county may want to put some money our way, or we start charging for some of the additional services."
He reported that he had budgeted for new carpet and furnishings in the dispatch center, as required by the agreement, but further upgrades were needed. In addition, when the county upgraded the telephone system last January, he did not have the budget authority to make similar improvements. As a result, Police and Sheriff telephone systems are not compatible. He estimated linking the two systems would cost $7,000.
At the Monday meeting, he reported that Sheriff Vernon Chinn told him it was not just a matter of the city "plugging in" to the county's server, but that the city would need to pay part of the $20,000 server upgrade.
Mayor Jeff Taylor countered that the vast majority of Pratt County is the City of Pratt, and its residents have paid taxes for county operation.
Commissioner Karen Detwiler reported on her study of the city-county agreement, and requested that as a "common courtesy" city staff be notified when sheriff's officers are entering the city side of the building.
Myers explained that a key card gives him access to the common area and the area used by the police department, but after hours, none of his officers have access to the county area.
The sheriff's office has access to every part of the building 24/7, Myers said, and Undersheriff Jimmie White agreed that all deputies have key cards to all locations.
Myers said that while he doesn't encourage his officers to leave paperwork or evidence on their desks, they could be called away suddenly and entry by deputies "could jeopardize the integrity of the evidence."
At the joint meeting, the two governing bodies agreed to reactivate a joint committee of a representative from each group, the sheriff, chief of police, city attorney and county counselor Bob Schmisseur. Monday night, City Manager Dave Howard noted that the function of that committee was to take care of issues relating to the building, but said if all parties were in agreement, its function could be expanded to operating matters. The group will meet Oct. 28 at the law enforcement center. Lucus Kumberg will represent the city and Charles Rinke is the county representative.
Detwiler concluded her report on law enforcement with a request for more personnel.
"We have heard the crime rate in Pratt has doubled at the end of August over the last year, yet the police department has the same number of positions it had 20 years ago," she said. "We need to work quickly to find money — and this city finds money for other things — to give Gary two more officers."
She was rebuked by Mayor Taylor, who said that would have to be discussed in a budget session in July. Howard noted that a budget increase of well over $100,000 would call for a 5 or 6 mil increase to the levy.
Howard argued that the crime rate statistics are "somewhat manipulated," when officers arrest the same person five or six times within a few days.