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Midvale Journal

Midvale to stay with UPD, but concerns remain

Jul 27, 2020 11:42AM ● By Erin Dixon

By Erin Dixon | [email protected]

As it stands today, Midvale City will continue as an active part of Unified Police Department (UPD). 

Questions have been raised in the past two years after UPD asked Midvale to contribute nearly 20% more money than the previous year in 2019, and another 4% increase in 2020. But, UPD increased the asking price from all its partner cities, not just Midvale.

Midvale staff performed a feasibility study that would help determine if the city could provide its own force and bring down the cost of first responders in the city. 

“Right off the bat, yes, we can provide a police department. The city council would form a budget of $8 million and we would determine how many officers and vehicles and things like that, that could afford,” Assistant City Manager Matt Dahl said. 

The question then remained was whether the city could provide the same services they get by being part of the larger UPD organization that funds specialist teams like SWAT. 

Councilmember Dustin Gettel was unsure which path would be more beneficial. “There’s potential that it could be disastrous in its roll out. Next fiscal year UPD could as a model fail, and we didn’t get off in time. Either way you look at it, there’s a very high risk potential,” he said. 

The concern that UPD might fail is not only about the budget increases, but increased costs that weren’t really necessary and amounted to budget mismanagement.  

Chief Randy Thomas submitted that, “When we onboarded Lisa Dudley, our CFO, the ball of twine she inherited turned into a proper budget. It gives me a lot more ability to predict at least at the precinct level what our budgets are going to look like.” 

Midvale joined UPD in 2012 when the city felt overwhelmed with its own police costs. 

Councilmember Paul Glover was on Midvale Council at that time and still is today. 

“The council needs to understand that just because we have our own police, it doesn’t mean we will stay within our own budget. The city may not necessarily save money if we leave,” Glover said. 

There were other reasons that members of the council were interested in leaving UPD.

Councilmember Bryant Brown “had major concerns with the fund balance and governance issues.”

“I would like to know the rationale behind staying in a contract that does not account for my tax money, that does not give voting rights according to the money spent, and that has a CEO that has no duty to be accountable to the UPD members,” Brown said. 

Brown explained his concerns in depth on a Midvale residents’ Facebook page. “Each city receives one vote on all policy matters. Copperton, a township of 579, has the same voting power as Midvale, a city of 34,000.”

“UPD has lowered its cost by using its fund balance. The use of fund balance highlights an unsustainable method Midvale is subsidizing smaller townships like Copperton. Their overall shared services budget is minimal because of the call volume.”

“[T]here is a fixed cost of an entire SWAT team going to a place like Copperton, even once, that likely puts Copperton's fund service at a net benefit for that township. It is not odd that the larger entities have left UPD while the smaller entities have stayed and are literally begging Midvale to stay,” Brown said.

Councilmember Quinn Sperry said he would rather stay with UPD because he thinks the larger organization will make it easier to keep officers.

“[W]ith smaller departments there is less opportunity for upward advancement. If the city is in the middle of the pay scale, the officers may get trained by us then leave to a different department where they can advance. UPD has more opportunities to advance. I would love to see it grow,” Sperry said.  

Ultimately, Midvale voted 4-1 to stay with UPD. The results of the voting have been confused in other local reports. The vote was a majority “no” to send a letter that stated an intent to disband. Meaning Midvale will not declare an intention to leave at this time. 

“I need to be clear that I think our UPD officers do a great job and provide a great service to the community. This is not about UPD officers or their service levels,” Brown said. 

During the public hearing on June 30, over a dozen people submitted comments stating whether Midvale should leave UPD or stay. 

Mayor of Millcreek Jeff Silvestrini asked Midvale to stay. “(Midvale) Mayor (Robert) Hale and I have worked hard with the UPD board to improve financial transparency at UPD. I think we can now see that shared services are being managed efficiently.”

Holladay Mayor Robert Dahle agreed with Silvestrini. “I would like to reinforce that we have a  prior knowledge to issues with regional services and have made progress with transparency and efficiencies in this critical area. My hope is that your council will not just weigh the monetary issue but weigh the value with the quality of service you receive as a member of UPD.”

Several residents also spoke out in support of Midvale remaining with UPD, but not just for the benefits of being part of a larger organization.

Amanda Hollingsworth said, “It is not just the cost you anticipate when building a new police department, it's the hidden costs. The workers’ compensation costs, automobile liabilities, directors’ and officers’ insurance costs. It’s opening the door to be responsible for any misconduct.”

Other residents were in favor of forming an independent Midvale police force. Brian Van Steenkiste said, “I fondly recall the days of our community police force and the positive relationships they had....I lamented the switch to Unified, and I really noticed a change in police behavior and directly saw its negative effects. Please seek the opportunity to end the relationship with Unified and return to a financially prudent police force.”