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Cut Services, Pay More?

Editorial for Aug. 12, 2010

You certainly can't blame the Bingen City Council for being skeptical about the proposals being floated by the White Salmon City Council regarding law enforcement services.

In the Aug. 3 special Joint session with members of both city councils, White Salmon seemed to be suggesting that Bingen should agree to slash the level of police services Bingen gets under the existing inter-local agreement -- and pay a lot more as well. What a deal!

Currently, Bingen pays about 23.7 percent of the costs of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, a formula based on assessed property valuations of the two cities. Council members from White Salmon said they wanted Bingen to pay 50 percent of the costs.

But even if Bingen were to agree to that proposal, White Salmon's councilors appear to still want to sharply cut the police budget: White Salmon's councilors are openly questioning whether the community needs -- or can afford -- to have at least one officer on patrol 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This appalling lack of support for having an adequately funded and equipped local Police Department -- remember the recent firestorm of opposition from the City Council over a proposal to buy several new police cars? -- has now resulted in the resignation of Police Chief Bruce Brending. Because members of the White Salmon City Council have indicated they don't see why the local community needs 24/7 police coverage (this belief is stunning) or two officers on duty at times, the community will be losing a valuable and highly experienced law enforcement officer. What a shame.

The council's lack of backing for the Police Department at least partly stems from the fact that White Salmon is once again facing a budget deficit. Currently, the deficit is at $70,000 for the year.

Yet the fact is, the cities of Bingen and White Salmon signed a legal contract -- renewed in 2008 and in force until 2014 -- that specifically calls for White Salmon to provide 24/7 police coverage for the entire community. White Salmon has no legal standing to arbitrarily gut the contract, budget troubles or not.

The contract also calls for White Salmon to provide seven officers and a police chief -- a level of service White Salmon has not provided for several years. Bingen has been more than patient in not contesting this, but now, with White Salmon asking for more money from Bingen while offering less in return, it might be time for Bingen to start playing hardball.

A contract is a contract, and White Salmon has not been living up to its part of the deal.

JB

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