Creating a police department could be the next chapter in Gretna's story of continued growth.
For decades, the Sarpy County suburb has relied on law enforcement coverage through the Sheriff's Office.
But with a swelling population and the potential for more calls as a result of the new outlet mall, Gretna officials are looking at when putting together a city-run department makes sense.
Mayor Jim Timmerman said the change might be only a few years away.
“It's on my bucket list,” he said. “Figuring out how to do it is the thing.”
Gretna will pay the county $362,000 this year for law enforcement coverage, under a three-year agreement renewed last year. That amount is set to increase 3.4 percent each year, reaching $387,000 by September 2015.
The contract is the most expensive in the state among towns that get law enforcement service through their counties, according to a recent report by the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.
The next most expensive contract is the $289,000 that Waverly, a suburban Lincoln community about the same size as Gretna, pays to Lancaster County.
Gretna City Administrator Jeff Kooistra said Gretna's arrangement is a good deal for now because it provides round-the-clock service. Plus, he said, the cost of starting a department is high, and there's no building in Gretna to house one.
“I don't think at this point in time, purely on a financial basis, it's probably a viable option yet,” Kooistra said. “Those days are getting closer, though, as we get larger.”
Timmerman said he foresees the city needing its own department within the next five years to keep up with more calls generated by more residents and the Nebraska Crossing Outlets. So far, however, law enforcement officials noted that the mall has generated relatively little crime.
Gretna has talked about starting with a small department and continuing to contract with the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office to cover evenings and the overnight hours.
Said Kooistra, “They're interested in working with us in that realm if we decide to go that way.”
The arrangement would come at a time when discussions about merging government services are common.
Over the years, there has been talk of combining the Omaha Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. Decades ago, the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office discussed combining law enforcement services with La Vista.
Sarpy County Sheriff's Lt. Randy Furby said the contract with Gretna works well for the county because it puts additional deputies in the western part of the county.
But Gretna officials want to create their own force when it reaches the point that the county would need to add services and raise the price.
Furby also said the transition is often about a town's identity. Bellevue, for example, held onto its volunteer fire department until the Nebraska Legislature several years ago passed a law requiring paid departments for cities of a certain size.
“The city wants their own identity,” Furby said. “They want to control what goes on and how they do it.”
Towns smaller than Gretna, which has a population of around 5,000, employ their own departments. With a budget of about $170,000, the Bennington Police Department employs two full-time officers, seven part-time officers and three reserve officers, said Bennington Police Chief Les Johnson.
Timmerman said the success of the outlet mall will play a role in adding to Gretna's tax base and making a police department financially possible.
According to a Nebraska Department of Revenue report, the mall is off to a strong start.
Though open just two weeks in November, Gretna recorded more than $17.5 million in net taxable sales that month, a 172 percent increase from November 2012.
But Gretna's biggest development can offer little tax revenue in the near term to support a police department because the extra tax revenue will go back to mall developers through incentives.
A redevelopment agreement authorized the city to offer about $57 million in incentives if the $112 million project meets specific financial goals.
Gretna will provide up to $14.3 million in sales tax incentives, which would return 1.5 percent in local sales tax revenue for 10 years within the redevelopment area, and up to $26.2 million from an occupation tax of 1.95 percent on sales in the development for 20 years.
The city also offered $12.8 million in tax-increment financing for 15 years and $4.1 million in general obligation bonds, which will be paid back through property taxes.
“We're cautiously optimistic things will continue to do very well,” Kooistra said, adding that once the incentives are met, the city can use the money to pursue projects such as adding services.
The topic of creating a police department has been an item of interest in Gretna for years as the town has grown.
In 2010, the city made providing law enforcement services and developing a new police station a goal in its strategic plan.
In 2012, graduate students from Bellevue University surveyed residents and found that most thought it was time that the city had its own police. Residents were split, however, on how to pay for it.
“Spurring new development will make it a little less painful to make some of these larger investments,” said City Council President Jason Stahr.
Though historically Gretna has had little crime, city officials realize that along with housing and commercial development comes the potential for more. Currently, traffic stops and business checks continue to be the most common law enforcement activity in the town.
The Sheriff's Office has answered a handful of theft and shoplifting calls at the mall since it opened. It has also answered several traffic-related calls there.
Furby suspects that calls will increase as land around the mall is developed.
“What's going to affect it mostly is as housing builds up, there's more targets” for thefts and burglaries, he said.
Gretna city officials agreed that they are generally happy with the service from the Sheriff's Office. But Timmerman said there's a big difference between contracting for law enforcement and having your own officers.
“They're more involved in the community. They give it an identity,” he said. “I think that'll be a good thing.”