The Bingen-White Salmon Police Department will not be disbanded anytime soon. After considering its options, the city of Bingen has decided to continue with the contract whereby the city of White Salmon provides police services for Bingen.
With a 3-0 vote on July 3, the Bingen City Council approved maintaining the arrangement, which first went into effect on May 1, 2000.
Bingen's council members approved sending two letters to confirm their decision. One letter went to Sheriff Chris Mace of the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, and the other went to White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen and members of the White Salmon City Council.
In May, Sheriff Mace had provided an outline of a proposed deal in which KCSO -- rather than White Salmon -- would cover Bingen's law enforcement needs. The Bingen council's decision means KCSO will not be contracted to provide law enforcement services for the city of Bingen.
"At the present time, the city of Bingen continues to work with the city of White Salmon in addressing ways in which the current interlocal agreement can be strengthened," read an excerpt of the July 5 letter to Mace, which was signed by Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel. "Knowing that a nearby law enforcement agency is willing to consider providing law enforcement services is helpful in current and future negotiations related to law enforcement services in the city of Bingen. It is important to the city to know what its options are."
The second letter went to Mayor Holen and the City Council.
"The city of Bingen wishes to continue working with the city of White Salmon to address proposed amendments to the interlocal agreement for law enforcement services," it read. "At the present time, it is not the city of Bingen's intent to terminate the agreement between the two cities. The city of Bingen looks forward to working with the city of White Salmon to strengthen the interlocal agreement and the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department."
Mayor Prigel said he believes it was important for the city to explore its options for police services.
"I think part of it is, if you're going to negotiate contract amendments, you have to have a fall back position if negotiations don't go well," he said. "I suspect that's the end of it for now."
Mace said he believed the KCSO option proved helpful for the city of Bingen.
"Just from an outsider looking in, they are contributing $180,000 to the program and not getting as much input as they'd like to have," Mace said. ""I believe what they were after was to just verify the fact there were other alternatives out there if their input was not going to be considered. I thought what happened was a good thing. Bingen seemed to feel some frustration, and by exploring options it opened the door to better communication between the two cities."
Bingen's political leaders have made clear they want to see some changes to the law enforcement services arrangement. earlier this year, the city of Bingen outlined five proposed recommendations for amendments to the law enforcement services contract between Bingen and White Salmon. Those suggested amendments are now being reviewed by attorneys for both Bingen and White Salmon.
The recommendations are as follows:
1) Add a section to the agreement that all Bingen-White Salmon police officers, including the police chief, shall be appointed through the White Salmon Civil Service Commission.
2) Add a section to the agreement that stipulates that the Civil Service Commission shall be "active," meeting monthly as required by Civil Service rules. Monthly meeting minutes shall be submitted to each city council.
3) Require joint quarterly meetings of the Bingen Police Committee and White Salmon Police Committee. Add language that would enable the joint committee to hear concerns about the Police Department.
4) Submit the proposed annual police budget to the city of Bingen no later than Oct. 1 each year, and request that any proposed amendments to the Police Department budget shall be submitted to the city of Bingen prior to adoption by the city of White Salmon.
5) Strengthen the role of the mayor of Bingen in hiring/firing decisions regarding the police chief.
A joint police committee meeting is tentatively set for July 20 to review the wording of the proposed amendments, and Holen said he was hopeful that the changes could be incorporated into the contract.
"They want some changes, some of which are possible, some aren't," Holen explained. "To give the Bingen mayor more authority, there is no practical way to do that."
Prigel agreed that issue could be troublesome to resolve.
"Strengthening the role of Bingen's mayor is a legal question was well as a policy question, and it needs to be ironed out," Prigel explained.
Holen pointed out that the city of White Salmon has already prepared an ordinance regarding the police chief position, although it has not yet been voted on by the City Council.
"We have completed a draft ordinance around the chief of police that puts the position at a fair arms' distance from the mayor of White Salmon," Holen said. "If there are any changes [to the draft ordinance] the joint meeting presses for, we'll try to incorporate them if we can."
Holen said he was pleased the Bingen City Council opted to keep the law enforcement contract with White Salmon intact.
"It was the right thing to do. I'm glad they didn't let their animosity toward me get in the way of what's right for the two cities," Holen said. "They are to be congratulated. By the same token, it never hurts to shop around. That's how we decide what the best deal is."
Betty Barnes, a member of the Bingen City Council, said she is pleased with the progress on amending the joint police contract.
"It seems like things are moving in the right direction," Barnes explained. "We still have to sit down and negotiate the small print, but it's being worked on and it looks like we're moving forward."
The current contract between Bingen and White Salmon for police services runs through Dec. 31, 2009. However, amendments can be made at any time if both cities agree on the changes.