Before the end of the year, the cities of Bingen and White Salmon will have to decide whether to maintain the consolidated police force that covers both communities.
On Nov. 18, the Bingen City Council was scheduled to consider whether to extend the police contract, and White Salmon is expected to have it on its council agenda soon.
The current system -- which merged separate police departments in both cities into a larger Bingen-White Salmon Police Department -- has been in force since May 1, 2000.
"The contract expires Dec. 31," explained Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel. "The new one would be for five years, expiring at the end of 2009."
To remain in effect, both cities have to OK the contract.
Prigel said he would "strongly recommend" that the Bingen City Council approve the new contract.
"The consolidation has been one of the successes, in my opinion. We've had vastly improved service and coverage, and the average money we've been spending is about what we've spent historically," said Prigel.
When the consolidation first took place, the Bingen Police Department had only two full-time police officers in service, although it was authorized to have four.
The current, combined force comprises eight full-time officers and a police chief.
"From our perspective, this has been in our interest all along. We didn't have 24-hour, seven day a week coverage [before the consolidation]," Prigel said. "Now we have that for basically the same money, and we're getting a much better police department. It's been a major accomplishment, and we would be fools if we were not to continue this process."
Besides the 24-hour coverage, Police Chief Ned Kindler said the consolidated department has provided added benefits that may not be directly obvious to the public.
"We're able to send more officers to training without draining the overtime budget," Kindler said. "Before the two departments consolidated, training was extremely expensive -- if you could get someone free to go."
Kindler pointed out that more training means officers are better able to serve the community. Further, training is good for morale.
"Morale stays up, which keeps turnover low," Kindler said. "And of course, consolidation has helped with equipment purchases as well. It has afforded us the chance to buy some equipment we wouldn't have been able to get as separate departments."
Kindler pointed out that the system has given the police force an advantage in obtaining law enforcement grants. Traditionally, agencies that provide grants give a higher priority to finding applications from multiple jurisdictions. With two cities involved, there is a built-in advantage in winning state and federal grants.
"We're happy with it as officers, and I can't imagine that citizens wouldn't be overjoyed, especially in Bingen," added Jim Andring, a detective with the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department.
Tim Stone, a member of the White Salmon City Council, said that although he had some concerns with the way the police department operates, he believed the consolidation itself has been a "pretty good idea."
"We have a decent size police force, and Bingen contributes toward vehicles and operations," Stone said. "Bingen takes away more resources than they pay for, but that's fine with me. We need to consolidate more things."
Prigel said he hadn't yet discussed the contract with members of the Bingen City Council, but didn't anticipate any objections. He pointed out that he has heard no objections from citizens to the consolidation.
"I'll take no complaints as being a good sign," Prigel said.
The consolidation did leave Bingen without a police station of its own, however, and Mayor Prigel said he hoped to see that situation rectified in the future.
"There is no station in Bingen at this time, but long-term, I'd like to see the Washington State Patrol, the county, and the city police departments all in one building in Bingen," Prigel explained.
Bingen has long envisioned building a new City Hall/community center/police station on vacant property the city owns in the 400 block of West Steuben.
"I believe having an office on SR 14 for all three departments to share would be good for everyone," Prigel said.
"I'd like to see a station down there in the future, so citizens can contact an officer working there in their own town," he said.
Prigel noted that current plans call for moving the "west end" office of the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) into the new Pioneer Center Building/senior center in White Salmon, which is soon to be under construction. The building will house representatives from several Klickitat County agencies, a senior center, and the county's Health Department.
However, KCSO's portion of the building would be in a proposed "second phase" of the building, and not likely to happen for several more years.
Prigel questioned the wisdom of having the Sheriff's Office operate out of the same building that has a senior center.
"Having emergency vehicles in and out of there, and prisoners -- it's a funny place for that type of thing," Prigel explained.