By Gregg Hennigan
IOWA CITY – The city of Tiffin is weighing its public safety needs against its bottom line.
Tiffin, which is a few miles west of Coralville and has a population of about 1,700, has no police force, so it contracts with Johnson County to have sheriff’s deputies patrol the town.
The contract is up for renewal July 1. Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, citing the growth of the town — its population has nearly doubled this decade — and the opening of a new high school in the fall, recommended the town increase its hours from the current 1,300 a year to 1,560 in the new contract.
The City Council, however, originally said it wanted to decrease its hours to 1,170. View a breakdown of the proposal, provided by Pulkrabek, at the end of this story.
Pulkrabek on Thursday apprised the Board of Supervisors of the situation, which said it would write a letter to the council encouraging it to follow the sheriff’s recommendation.
Tiffin Mayor Royce Phillips also was at the meeting. He said the five-member council, which he does not have a regular vote on, probably will increase the hours some but not as much as Pulkrabek suggested. The council meets Wednesday and Phillips hopes they’ll reach an agreement with the county soon.
“There’s no question that we’re going to need increased patrol,” he said.
Phillips said its more an issue of money than hours. The county is increasing the hourly fee it charges from $27 to $31. That would cost the city $5,200 a year more if it kept its contracted hours the same, and more than $13,200 a year extra if it followed Pulkrabek’s proposal.
Including salary and benefits, the average deputy is worth $35.72 an hour, Pulkrabek said. Plus there’s equipment, a patrol car and gas. And Tiffin, like the other small towns the county serves, goes over its contracted amount every year at no extra charge, he said.
“So clearly, it costs more to have a deputy than what we’re charging,” he said.
Phillips also said there could be better communication with the county. For example, deputies have started sometimes walking into schools while on patrol. Phillips said the city didn’t know that counted against its hours until after it started.
Pulkrabek and the supervisors emphasized that the county would respond to any emergency in Tiffin no matter what. But if the contracted hours aren’t increased, there will be fewer regular patrols through the town.
“It’s really up to you folks to weigh how much protection you want,” supervisors Chairman Terrence Neuzil told Phillips.
Supervisor Sally Stutsman said many governments are facing tight budgets, but Tiffin either needs to pay for more coverage by the Sheriff’s Office, accept fewer patrols or set up its own police force.
“To me, these issues are consequences of growth,” she said.
Phillips said the creation of a police force is something the town may have to consider several years from now.