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South Valley Journal

Riverton to create own law enforcement service area

Aug 30, 2017 04:56PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Councilman Trent Staggs, who represents Riverton on the SLVLESA and UPD boards, explains the benefits of RLESA. (Mariden Williams/City Journals)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

Following Riverton City’s withdrawal from the Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area, or SLVLESA, the city council held a public hearing on Aug. 15, regarding the creation of a replacement service area: the Riverton Law Enforcement Area, or RLESA. 

 According to City Attorney and interim City Manager Ryan Carter, the proposed service area RLESA “would essentially perform the same function that SLVLESA once performed for Riverton City, which was to levy property taxes for law enforcement services” provided by the Salt Lake Unified Police Department but at lower cost to city residents. 

 The creation of RLESA will not change Riverton’s relationship with the UPD. 

“We still operate under an interlocal agreement with the UPD, and that has not been changed at all as a part of this process,” said Carter. The only thing that will change is how the UPD is paid.

 There are two chief ways for contracting cities to pay for the UPD’s services. “They can pay the bill directly to Unified Police, or they can participate in a service area,” said Councilmember Trent Staggs, who has represented Riverton on the UPD and SLVLESA boards for the past three years. “Since 2011, we’ve opted for the latter. In my opinion, we’re better served to contract directly, or, in this case, to create a service area that’s just within our border.”

 A service area makes a single contract with a separate entity, in this case the UPD, on behalf of all the individual municipalities within it. Then the service area uses the combined property tax money to pay the UPD. This is what SLVLESA does, and RLESA would do essentially the same thing. 

But while SLVLESA is large, containing multiple cities in the Salt Lake Valley, RLESA would be confined to Riverton alone, essentially creating a single-municipality service area. Staggs said this would “keep Riverton property tax within Riverton and use that then to pay for the Unified Police contract, which is about $5 million per year.”

 Last year, Riverton’s UPD contract was worth $4.9 million, but with SLVLESA, it paid $5.2 million. Even though Riverton is already overpaying, SLVLESA increased its rates by 9.5 percent this year and seeks a further 5 percent increase in 2018. “With this tax increase, I think we’re at about $5.6 (million) that would be collected within our border,” Staggs said. “Riverton is essentially bringing in an extra $700,000, maybe as high as $800,000 more than what our cost is to contract directly with the Unified Police.”

 RLESA’s initial tax rate, meanwhile, “would be set at essentially the same levy rate that the 2016 tax rate was for the SLVLESA,” according to Staggs. So next year’s tax rollback “is essentially going to save half a million dollars in property tax for Riverton residents, and we will be able to get the same great service in contracting directly with Unified Police.”

 In many ways, the service may be better. The structure of the 11-representative SLVLESA board presented some major difficulties with vote dilution. 

“I represent 45,000 residents, and my vote is equal to that of someone at Copperton, who only represents 300 people,” said Staggs. Moving from the countywide service area to a single-city service area will give Riverton a lot more control over its own law enforcement. “It… gives us the opportunity to set levels of service, hire more officers as we see fit, instead of me being one of 11 people on a board and asking ‘Mother, may I?’”

 After this hearing, Riverton is in the clear to initiate the creation of RLESA. However, if Riverton residents desire, they have until Oct. 16 to file protest and, potentially, shoot the budding service area down. If that happens, the city will “have to scramble to find another means of paying for that $5 million contract with Unified Police,” said Staggs, because one way or another, the UPD contract must be paid, and SLVLESA is no longer an option.