By JESSE BURKHARDT
Despite costs that will go up sharply in stages over the next three years, the White Salmon City Council has unanimously approved sticking with Klickitat County for emergency dispatching services -- for now.
Every year, White Salmon is required to sign a new lease for its dispatching services, which cover police, ambulance, and fire departments. This year, the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office (KCSO), which provides dispatching for emergency service providers in White Salmon and Bingen, is adjusting its rates upward in a big way.
The reason for the jump in costs is the reality that the city has not been paying enough to cover KCSO's operating costs for emergency dispatching.
Starting in 2011, the rates will go up on a graduated basis. Over the next three years, what White Salmon pays will nearly triple.
According to City Council member Adrian Bradford, the city is currently paying $4,800 per year for the county's dispatching services. He pointed out that KCSO proposes to increase that to $14,000 for 2011, to $20,000 in 2012, and then to $28,500 in 2013.
The Klickitat County Commissioners have already approved the staggered increases.
"It's expensive. It was kind of a shock," commented Mayor David Poucher.
Bingen-White Salmon Police Department Sgt. Jim Andring was philosophical about the hike in costs.
"We've been getting a good deal over the years," Andring explained. "It was the goal of the County Commissioners to make every user pay their fair share, and some adjustment was necessary -- but we didn't expect it to triple."
White Salmon's city attorney, Ken Woodrich, asked if the city has looked into viable options for dispatching rather than continuing with KCSO.
"In view of the rate doubling in the next two years, have we determined if other dispatch services are available?" Woodrich asked.
"It's prudent to look at what's out there," agreed City Administrator Pat Munyan.
Andring said KCSO offers reliable, professional services, and he hoped the city could stick with the status quo.
"We're happy with the service we get with KCSO," Andring said. "It seems to me that even with the rates significantly reduced, sticking with KCSO seems reasonable -- to be on the same system."
Woodrich said, at the very least, White Salmon needed a clause that would allow the city to terminate the contract.
"In view of the magnitude of these increases, we should negotiate some kind of termination language," Woodrich explained. "A 60-day termination is a reasonable requirement."
However, Greg Holtman, safety officer for the White Salmon Fire Department, warned that going to a new dispatching center might lead to trouble.
"If this is not coordinated properly, we could have a real problem," Holtman warned. "As safety officer, I wouldn't feel comfortable going to another system with only 60 days notice -- that's not going to work."
White Salmon Fire Chief Bill Hunsaker suggested that perhaps the County Commissioners would find a way to reduce the charges to White Salmon.
"Maybe we can go back to the County Commissioners and explain that this is a hard hit for us," Hunsaker said. "For them to mandate what the price is going to be is pretty harsh."
Because the existing contract expires at the end of 2010, Poucher urged the council to go ahead and agree to the deal with KCSO -- but he added a caveat.
"We can sign this, and break it if need be," Poucher said. "But we have to have some agreement by the end of December."
The council members agreed to add in to the agreement that the city could pull out of the contract with at least 60 days prior notice.
Council member Mark Peppel asked how the city would find out if there was a better deal for dispatching services available.
"We'll request written proposals from every entity, with each proposal providing us with actual cost figures," responded Munyan.
"Since we're already in December, I recommend you go ahead and accept this deal, then start researching alternatives -- or see if the county can change the numbers," Woodrich suggested.
The council voted 4-0 to approve that language.
Because the city of Bingen contracts with White Salmon for police services, Bingen does not have to draft its own agreement for dispatching services; rather it will be included in White Salmon's deal.
"We certainly pay our share of those added costs -- 32 percent in fact," explained Bingen City Administrator Jan Brending. "It's part of our police budget."