Fairbury and Jefferson County negotiate pay structure of police/sheriff agreement

FAIRBURY, NE — The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office appears positioned to continue policing the city of Fairbury.

The county and city made a 10-year agreement when they merged forces in 2018. Fairbury pays the county a set monthly fee to cover the sheriff’s work in town. That fee is negotiated annually and can’t increase by more than three percent. The county is asking for the maximum increase this year.

“Three percent, I think, was a very conservative (number) that was put in originally, until we knew where we were at," Commissioner Gale Pohlmann said. "Now, we’re realizing that we’re not coming out.”

According to the sheriff’s projection, his office will spend about $26,000 more on service related to Fairbury this budget year than the city is paying. Because of rising health care, fuel and training costs, a three percent increase is unlikely to cover costs next year either.

“We’re still going to be behind because we’re behind this year," Pohlmann said. "That’s why we need the three percent, we want you to understand that.”

City leaders, meanwhile, say they’ve heard feedback from people who want to resurrect the police department. They’re particularly concerned with the county’s efforts at enforcing traffic laws.

The groups agreed to have a joint law enforcement committee meet quarterly, instead of yearly, to review performance.

“The lack of communication and transparency between the sheriff’s department and the city, if we fix that, I think we fix a lot of (the concerns),” Fairbury Mayor Spencer Brown said.

The Fairbury City Council will vote on the three percent fee increase at its next meeting, then bring the proposal back to the county board. Leaders expect the new payment structure to pass and take effect in July.