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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Controversy over paying for Unified police service in Salt Lake County has taken center stage in the race for Salt Lake County sheriff.
Currently, incumbent Sheriff Jim Winder is spending his time defending his record against statements by his challenger in the race, Cottonwood Heights police officer Beau Babka.
The job of Salt Lake County sheriff has evolved to include supervision of the Unified police department, as well as the county jail. When it comes to the way both are being run, the candidates are going at it.
Winder and Babka are veterans in law enforcement; they like being in the thick of things. At a KSL Newsradio debate with Doug Wright, the two went the rounds as both cops and politicians.
"This race is a very clear race, in my mind," Winder said. "It's a race between a policeman and a politician. I have been a police officer for 25 years."
"I'm a community cop. I'm somebody people can come to me as a resource, they can continue to come to me as sheriff," Babka countered.
Winder says he has plenty of accomplishments, including creating the Unified Police Department. Winder says that transition built relationships and saved Salt Lake County $14 million last year. He also reopened Oxbow Jail to ease overcrowding at the main jail.
"Those are real solutions," Winder said, "not rhetoric, not discussion, not academics."
But Babka claims Winder isn't building relationships to keep the Unified police model working.
Babka also hit a hot button with taxpayers, claiming Winder didn't stand up enough to protect taxpayers from Salt Lake County's Unified police fee.
"He does have a play in this," Babka said. "It's just like a chief of police with truth and taxation. When you stand up there and talk about the services you're providing you better be accountable for those."
Winder argued, "He's absolutely incorrect, and this is a political answer that is trying to inflame people in the very organization that he's proposing he wants to run."
In fact, the Salt Lake County mayor and council imposed the fee to solve a general budget deficit, but then chose to direct it to pay for police services. So to the candidates, the differences are about management style.
The question is whether Salt Lake County voters will be able to sort through the emotion associated with that police fee.
In this race, Winder is completing his first term as sheriff, and Babka is hoping to defeat his former boss.