The Bingen City Council is considering canceling its law enforcement contract with the city of White Salmon.
During the council's June 6 meeting, council member Randy Anderson presented fellow council members with a draft plan from the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) that could replace the existing deal between the two cities.
"One of the great things is, there would be a savings to Bingen of between $40,000-$46,000," Anderson said. "That would be nice, budget-wise. We need to find out if it's feasible or not."
KCSO Sheriff Chris Mace said his office was approached about contracting to cover Bingen's law enforcement needs. Mace stressed that this proposal is exploratory only at this time.
"There is certainly not a commitment on their part or our part," Mace explained. "I went in front of the County Commissioners to make sure they were OK with the concept and open for discussing this, if this is what Bingen wanted to do. We put up a raw proposal for them to consider."
Anderson agreed that the KCSO proposal was only a "starting point."
"Everyone needs to go through this, then bring it back for discussion at our next meeting," Anderson said. "If we want to pursue this, we might want to start our 90-day process to get out of the contract with White Salmon."
Since May 1, 2000, the city of Bingen has contracted with the city of White Salmon for its law enforcement services, and Bingen and White Salmon are currently jointly served by a seven-officer force known as the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department.
The contract allows for either side to terminate the agreement with 90 days' notice.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel urged the council to move slowly, and if it wants to make a change, to consider putting out a formal "request for proposals" to compare possible deals from various law enforcement agencies.
"The council needs to set criteria for what level of service we would accept," Prigel said.
Prigel added that he believes abandoning the joint policing deal with White Salmon in favor of the KCSO proposal would not be good for the city of Bingen.
"The KCSO proposal is a drop-off of what we have now. There is a huge difference in coverage there," Prigel said.
The tentative plan from KCSO would provide two full-time positions designated to serve the city of Bingen at a cost of $159,000 per year. Included in the cost would be equipment and uniforms for officers, costs for incarceration of suspects at the county jail, vehicle replacement (one new rig every three years), fuel, repair and maintenance. Supplies, training, and travel would also be included, and the city would also have access to additional services provided by KCSO, including the special response team, narcotics investigations, Marine Patrol, and Neighborhood Watch.
"It is felt that the city of Bingen will actually increase the services, especially investigative and technical, while saving and de-obligating about $46,380 over what is currently being expended," Sheriff Mace wrote in the summary of the KCSO proposal.
According to Prigel, the only reason why the KCSO plan would be less costly for the city is because coverage would be reduced.
"There would be only two police officers dedicated to the city of Bingen, and beyond that, it's whoever is available at the west end of the county, coming from Trout Lake or Glenwood or who knows where," Prigel explained.
Mace said the analysis of officer staffing needs was based on statistics from the county's dispatch center from Jan. 1, 2006-March 30, 2006. Mace reviewed the calls for police assistance that came from citizens in Bingen, and believes two officers would provide sufficient coverage.
Mace also pointed out that with mutual aid, it is not unusual for officers from the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department to leave the community to back up KCSO deputies in emergency situations, and as a result it would not be any different if KCSO set up a plan to dedicate two deputies to serve Bingen.
"If there is a call in Lyle, they (Bingen-White Salmon officers) run out to help. The coverage in Bingen wouldn't change, because they do that now," Mace said. "It would be around the clock service, because coverage would be complemented by our deputies."
During last week's meeting, Anthony Connors, attorney for the city of Bingen, said he believes the proposed deal with the county would leave the community with less effective law enforcement coverage than it now has.
"The notion is that Bill or Fred would be on duty five days a week, and the rest of the time, just call," Connors said.
Mace said that the number of police calls from Bingen did not justify a larger force.
"The stats really don't warrant more than two people," Mace explained.
On Friday, Prigel said he does not believe the full council would approve discarding the arrangement with the city of White Salmon.
"I think a majority of the council would not be supportive of it, and I doubt the public would be supportive," Prigel said. "This is the best police coverage we've had for the last two or three decades. I think it would be a big mistake if we made a change at this point."
On Monday, Bingen council member Laura Mann said she had not yet reached any conclusion about the proposal.
"I haven't had enough time to consider it," she explained.
Mann added that she believes any proposal from a law enforcement agency needs to consider a full year of calls, not just a three-month period as was the case with the KCSO proposal. Mann also questioned what changes a deal with KCSO might bring to the city's existing jail contract with the county.
White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen said he hoped members of the Bingen council would not terminate the existing deal.
"I think it would be a major mistake to go that direction just because they are ticked off at me," Holen said. "It has worked too well for too many years to react that way."
Holen added that two officers would not provide full coverage.
"Two people would fall far short of 24/7," Holen said. "Two people means 80 hours a week."
Timi Keene, a member of the White Salmon City Council, said it would be "irresponsible" for the two cities to dissolve the agreement for joint police services.
"A joint police committee meeting resulted in recommencing positive changes to the agreement," Keene said. "If there is a problem, that's the way to fix it. We need to be studying additional ways to combine forces for more efficient, fiscally-responsible local government, not further dividing them."
White Salmon council member Richard Marx saw it differently, explaining that he wasn't surprised Bingen was weighing its options.
"I don't blame them. I wouldn't want to be part of the chaos of the city of White Salmon either," said Marx.
The next meeting of the Bingen City Council will be on June 20 at 7 p.m. at the Bingen Fire Station/City Hall.