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Lori Prichard reporting
produced by Kelly JustSALT LAKE CITY -- In an exclusive interview with KSL 5 News, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder came out swinging against the decision to impose a public safety fee.
"Somewhere, somewhere, there needed to be made up a $12 million shortfall. Was a fee on a newly-created police department the most appropriate way? I'll argue it was not," Winder said.
The Salt Lake County Council is now rethinking the current public safety fees after the sheriff's protests and public furor. Prior to Tuesday's county council meeting, members told KSL they will try to raise the money a different way.
Rather than a public safety fee to fund the newly-created Unified Police Department, the council intends to get permission from the Legislature to impose a franchise fee.
As Salt Lake County council member Jim Bradley explained, a franchise fee is a fee on "your energy bills -- gas and power."
Currently, the only way money can be raised by Salt Lake County is through property taxes or imposing fees. The Legislature restricted the county's ability this year to levy property taxes to fund the county's portion of the Unified Police Department.
KSL asked Bradley what the sheriff thought about this latest idea.
"This is not his business," Bradley said. "Budgeting law enforcement is the council's position, not the sheriff's."
That's what had Winder so angry when we sat down with him in our interview about the public uproar over the Unified Police Department and the fees.
"I can fight it all I want internally. I have no power to stop it," Winder said.
The sheriff said he worries the public does not understand that and has turned him into a scapegoat.
"I, as the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, cannot, nor would I, raise taxes or impose fees," Winder argued. "I don't have the power."
Some council members are now going on record defending the sheriff, calling the criticism of Winder inappropriate.
"The heat he's getting from the public, and I've read on blogs and everything else, is completely unfair," said Councilman Joe Hatch. "Whether we created the UPD or not, we had to find another revenue source of about $11.5 million. It was either that or start laying off cops. We chose not to lay off cops."
KSL also found talk in Salt Lake County Council minutes of imposing a public safety fee on the 170,000 unincorporated residents back in September 2008.
"I'll take full responsibility. I was one of the first people to say maybe we should look at a fee," Bradley said.
Winder is not sure that admission has come in time.
"Is it too little too late? That's for the public to decide," he said.
In the meantime, the county council will pursue the franchise fee. But it will be the Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area, formerly the Unified Police District, to impose it.
Public confusion is the reason behind the name change from Unified Police District to Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area. Council members and the sheriff say that whenever the public heard "Unified Police District" they thought "Unified Police Department." Those are two totally separate entities.
The Unified Police District is a three-member board made up of county council members who vote on whether or not to impose fees. The sheriff is not a member.
Now the council is trying to clear up the confusion with a new strategy. In the meantime, it looks like the unincorporated residents will have to pay a public safety fee until the Legislature approves the "franchise fee" idea.