Joseph City Council members meet to discuss law enforcement options with Wallowa County Sheriff Joel Fish at the Joseph City Library on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. Mayor Lisa Collier, and other councilors, seemed to agree that contracting with the Sheriff’s Office was a preferable option to starting the city’s own police force, but no decisions on the matter have yet been made.
JOSEPH — Saying that starting its own police department would be too much of a heavy lift, Joseph Mayor Lisa Collier and members of the City Council are leaning toward contracting with the Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office to fund a deputy who would be based in Joseph.
That appeared to be the consensus at a council work session Tuesday, March 14, although Collier and councilors emphasized that no decisions have yet been made and that they wanted to hear from Joseph residents on the issue.
But faced with estimates that the startup costs for a police department could approach $1 million — and after learning more about what was required to start a department — Collier and councilors opted for additional exploration of a contract with the Sheriff’s Office.
Collier talked about how a fact-finding mission to the Enterprise Police Department showed her how much was involved in building a police department from scratch.
“It’s a big deal,” she said. “It was way more of a big deal than I thought. ... I’m not sure that starting our own force is a realistic option.”
Sheriff Joel Fish estimated that hiring a full-time deputy sheriff who would be specifically assigned to the city of Joseph would cost the city $117,518 a year — but cautioned that the price tag could rise pending contract negotiations.
The current discussion about beefing up law enforcement in Joseph dates back to the council’s January meeting, when Collier and councilors asked Dan Larman, the city administrator, to research options. On Tuesday, Larman reiterated the council’s three options — start a city police force, contract with the Sheriff’s Office or do nothing. Currently, law enforcement in Joseph is mostly handled by the Sheriff’s Office, but no deputies are specifically assigned to the city.
Larman said at Tuesday’s meeting that startup costs for a two-person police department easily could top $700,000.
Fish told the council that hiring a deputy assigned to Joseph could have other benefits for the Sheriff’s Office. Such a deputy would be available to respond to back up other county deputies or the Enterprise Police Department if the need arises — although he emphasized that the deputy’s first priority would be Joseph.
Fish added that the deputy would be available to increase security at the Joseph Charter School. The deputy could enforce city ordinances through a hearings officer or municipal judge hired by Joseph, if the city desires. State violations and crimes would still be sent to the district attorney and Wallowa County Circuit Court, but the district attorney has said she does not have the workforce to prosecute ordinance violations.
Collier and councilors said they wanted to move ahead with the discussion with an eye toward creating a budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year that includes additional law-enforcement resources. That fiscal year begins July 1.
But they also said they wanted to solicit opinions from Joseph residents about law enforcement in the city and are exploring options to create a survey on the topic. In the meantime, they encouraged residents to email comments on the issue to Larman, at email@example.com.
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