St. Maries’ cancellation of the sheriff’s contract marks the second split between city and county on law enforcement this year.
In February, the city proposed to cancel a contract with county prosecutor that provided prosecutorial services for city code violations for $600 per month. The contract lapsed in September.
Votes to cancel both contracts split along the same lines. In both decisions councilmembers Ed Spooner and Steve Dorendorf were first to support the decisions and councilmember Randall Saunders was the sole dissenting vote.
The decision not to renew with the county prosecutor was made shortly after the city renegotiated dispatch fees with the county. In December 2019, the city moved to renegotiate dispatch fees. The effort was successful and saw dispatch fees cut from $5,584 to $2,792.41 per month. However, the process was contentious.
At the February 10, 2020, city council meeting, Mr. Dorendorf said that at the time the city was reviewing dispatch fees that the city received a letter from the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office “which you could tell was written by the prosecuting attorney, which tried to intimidate us to back off,” Mr. Dorendorf said.
Communication between the BCSO and the St. Maries city council has suffered since that time with both parties citing a lack of communication by the other.
In May, Mr. Spooner and Mr. Dorendorf submitted a letter to this newspaper accusing the BCSO of officer negligence, lacking communications, and a failure to meet contractual obligations.
In response, Sheriff Resser denied the allegations and emphasized that he has an open-door policy.
“I have not had any communications from them. If they have needs or if they would wish something more, all they need is to stop by to address the issue. My door is always open. It is a shame certain individuals have put a political spin on this for their own agenda,” Sheriff Resser said.
The letter was ultimately an endorsement of Tami Holdahl to be elected county sheriff this year.
Undersheriff Tony Eells, now sheriff-elect, won the election by 2,603 votes. Ms. Holdahl, a write-in candidate, placed second with 1,481 votes. Independent candidate Mike Ingersoll earned 754 votes.
Asked if he thought the contract cancellation was a political move Sheriff Resser said “I think there is that.”
In an interview last week, Mr. Saunders also implied that previous disagreements between the city and the county could be a factor.
“The city on the one hand, I do see, part of it is some friction emerged earlier in the year. I think there is an emotional aspect. But there is a financial aspect. I know Ed (Spooner) did some leg work. I’m not sure that the city residents are paying double, but they do seem to be paying twice,” Mr. Saunders said.
According to the city’s own code, it has three options for enforcement, renegotiate with sheriff-elect Tony Eells, hire a code enforcement officer, or reinstate a city police department.
The city has not had a police department since 2016, when it dissolved amidst an investigation by Idaho State Police regarding money that was missing from the police department’s evidence locker. That investigation was suspended after the resignation of the police chief and one sergeant, and the dissolution of the department.
In December 2016, the city council voted to contract with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement. Mr. Dorendorf and Councilmember Randy Willard were the two votes against the decision. Mr. Saunders and Mayor Tom Carver, then a councilmember, voted in favor of the contract. Mr. Spooner was not on the city council at the time.
At the time, Undersheriff Eells said the sheriff’s office estimated that city law enforcement would cost $336,595 annually, a significant savings.
“That is about $99,000 less than what you all have budgeted for the law enforcement for the current year,” Undersheriff Eells said. “Whatever equipment your department has now we would buy from you at fair market value. From vehicles to guns and other things.”
According to the estimate $230,000 was for wages, $67,000 for dispatch fees, $2,000 for training, $2,000 for uniforms, $27,000 for vehicles, fuel and maintenance, and $8,000 for potential overtime.
The council has previously considered other options like hiring a city code enforcer Mr. Saunders said.
However, more current discussions have yet to take place.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen yet. I’d like to see the sheriff start communicating with the city again,” Mr. Dorendorf said last week.
Undersheriff Tony Eells attended the city council meeting via teleconference but did not speak. Asked for comment later, he said “It is the city’s decision.”