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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Police Department gains three more officers as ski traffic season starts

Nov 06, 2023 02:53PM ● By Cassie Goff

“These are positions you once had. It’s where the staffing level should be to mitigate certain issues,” said Councilmember Matthew Holton. (Photo courtesy of Cottonwood Heights)

The Cottonwood Heights Police Department (CHPD) will be growing by three additional officers before this 2023 winter season. The Cottonwood Heights City Council hopes the replacement of three officers will help to mitigate some of the common ski traffic issues this winter along with some of the speeding and reckless driving incidents the city has currently been seeing. 

On Oct. 20, Mayor Mike Weichers mentioned the spike in pedestrian-vehicle accidents of 660 reported by the Utah Department of Public Safety. Councilmember Matthew Holton echoed Weichers sentiment, reporting the most complaints he’s received relates to vehicle speeding within the city on major roads. 

“I want to keep in mind the complaints that we are getting from residents about speeding on Highland Drive and Wasatch Boulevard,” Councilmember Shawn Newell said. “We talk about safety on our streets—this is how we address those things.” 

In relation to Wasatch Boulevard during the winter months, the additional three officers will be helping to prevent blocked driveways and push drivers to the sides of the road while waiting to access the resorts. 

“I know that these individuals were positions that were taken away at some point within the city’s history. Thanks to the department for making it work when being stretched thin, even with overtime,” Holton said.

CHPD Chief Robby Russo mentioned that the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) wants his team to complete tire checks for vehicles traveling within the canyons this year as well. 

“I’m not checking tires until they kick up the money for us to do it,” Russo said.

Three officers, with salary and benefits included, has an impact on the city’s annual budget of $418,000. In addition, the city will need to pay a one-time expense of $40,000 for another vehicle to the fleet and $18,000 for additional handheld and car radios. 

“Having these three officers will help and be an important contribution,” said City Manager Tim Tingey. “But I don’t want there to be the expectation that these three officers will solve all the problems. They’ll help mitigate.”

Since the CHPD patrols Wasatch Boulevard and arterial residential roads during the winter months with heavy ski traffic, Cottonwood Heights has requested UDOT add funds to help cover those additional patrol costs. 

“We would like to have people up and going before the snow really starts to fly,” said Councilmember Scott Bracken. 

Mayor Weichers informed the city council that even though he has requested funding from UDOT for patrolling Wasatch Boulevard (a state-owned road), the city won’t know if they’ll receive that funding until November, at the earliest.

UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras has requested $500,000 to be added into his budget to distribute between Cottonwood Heights, Sandy and the Sheriff’s Office. Meaning that Cottonwood Heights would receive around $200,000.

“Now, just because Carlos puts it into the budget, doesn’t mean we get it,” Weichers said. “There’s a lot of ‘ifs.” 

The legislature will decide to either approve or deny UDOT’s full budget request in November. If the full budget is approved, the earliest the funds would be available to Cottonwood Heights would be July 1, 2024. 

“I think that UDOT being willing to put that into their budget request is a big positive,” Weichers said. 

In addition to the cost savings potentially provided by UDOT, there will be some potential cost savings internally with staff. There are several officers currently aging out and getting close to retirement. Depending on who is hired, a lateral or new-hire will ultimately have a lesser impact on the city budget than an officer capped at the top of their salary range approaching retirement. 

“We could end up with zero impact to our budget with retirements and UDOT,” Weichers said.

Ordinance 404: Adopting an Amended Budget for FY 2023-24 was motioned by Holton, seconded by Newell, and unanimously approved on Oct. 3. 

“The city council and I are taking important steps to improve road safety in Cottonwood Heights,” Weichers said. “As the city endeavors to promote safe roadways in our city—including crossing improvements and enhanced police presence—all citizens also should please do all they can to follow the above safety tips. I invite you to please join the city in working together to prevent future tragedies in our community.” λ