Having a consolidated police force with the city of White Salmon proved to be too good for the Bingen City Council to pass up.
On the evening of Nov. 18, the council members voted 5-0 to extend the police contract for five years, through 2009.
The original deal that, in effect, merged the separate police departments in the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department went into force on May 1, 2000.
"Technically, we're contracting with White Salmon, but for all practical purposes it is a joint department," explained Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel.
The creation of the consolidated, nine-member police force (eight officers and a chief) has made it possible for the two communities to have 24-hour coverage, something that was usually not possible with the separate departments due to manpower limits. It also has provided more stability among law enforcement personnel.
"In the 15 years before this contract went into effect, we had 52 different police officers," Prigel pointed out to highlight the turnover problems in Bingen.
Prigel recommended that the council OK the new five-year contract.
"We've got a proposed renewal in front of you," he told the councilors. "In my perspective, it's been night and day. The city has had the best coverage since I've been here."
"Why do you think it's the best?" council member Laura Mann asked.
"How long have you lived here?" Prigel responded.
"Seven years," Mann replied.
"Before, we could never keep the department staffed. The turnover rate was extremely high. We typically operated with between one and three officers. We do have 24-hour coverage now, and for our money I don't think we could ever do this."
Bingen's city clerk, Jan Brending, said the cost of the police services were split based on property tax valuations of the respective cities.
"If White Salmon goes on an annexation spree, our share would go down," Brending said. "Right now, our share is about 32 percent, and that's very good."
Anthony Connors, Bingen's city attorney, said he too supported the consolidation.
"This is a very good department," Connors said. "Before, when we were separate, we did not get the respect we get now from judges and courts. It's considered one of the best local departments."
"And the quality of the officers is much better," added council member Randy Anderson.
Mann, however, said she wondered if there was a decreased presence in Bingen since the consolidation.
"I don't see them as much," Mann said. "I'd love to see more police drive-bys. I'd love to see them serve Bingen better."
Prigel said he believed crime statistics had improved as well since the combining of the departments.
"Vandalism has not been a problem, and I'm not aware of any rashes of car prowls lately," Prigel explained.
Councilor Jeanette Fentie suggested that it would be a good idea to review the police department occasionally to make sure newly-passed ordinances in Bingen are being enforced.
The council discussed having the police chief come before the council at least once a year to make a report and respond to questions from the council.
Mayor Prigel said that could be done whenever a council member wanted that on the agenda.
Council member Anderson made a motion to approve the interlocal agreement that would maintain the police consolidation for five years.
Larry Murphy seconded the motion, and the council unanimously approved it.
The city of White Salmon is expected to address the police consolidation on Dec. 3, with renewal of the police contract expected to be on the City Council's agenda. The council meeting begins at 6 p.m., upstairs at the Park Center.