With annual budgets already stretched too thin, the cities of Bingen and White Salmon have decided to stop providing what is essentially free police coverage during community events that involve serving alcohol.
In the past, the cities -- and thus, the taxpayers -- have routinely paid all the overtime costs incurred by the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department during events such as the White Salmon Spring Festival, the Huckleberry Festival, and the Art & Wine Fusion.
"Organizers will have to provide security at their own cost," said newly-elected Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes.
On Dec. 21, a letter went out to the organizers of the Huckleberry Festival, the White Salmon Spring Festival, and the White Salmon Arts Council, explaining the reasons for the new approach.
"The Bingen-White Salmon Police Department has pointed out that an appreciable amount of overtime is spent providing security for events that included serving alcohol. Accordingly, each of us, with the support of Police Chief Bruce Brending, will be recommending to our respective councils that action be taken to require that such events provide on-site security by contracting directly with the Police Department or with a private and bonded security agency approved by Chief Brending," the letter read.
It was signed by Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel and White Salmon Mayor David Poucher.
In December, both the Bingen City Council and the White Salmon City Council voted unanimously to put the new policy into effect.
Poucher said the move was necessary.
"That's a major contributor to the city's overtime costs, and a major contribution to city expenses," he explained. "They're having a beer garden and serving alcohol, and they need to figure out security. We told them, if you're going to be doing beer gardens, the city needs help to pay for it. It's a way to allow the city to cut a significant amount of overtime expenses."
Poucher said providing police protection during events where alcohol is served can quickly add up.
"For example, if we normally have two officers on duty, and now suddenly we need to have six on duty -- the organizers would be responsible to pay for the time for the additional four officers," Poucher explained.
When contacted for comment on Monday, both Amanda McDonald, a member of the White Salmon Spring Festival Committee, and Sally Tallman, who serves on the Huckleberry Festival Committee, said they had no knowledge of the new policy and had not yet seen the letters as mail had not been picked up over the holiday period.
Tallman said she was concerned about the added costs to put on the festivals.
"This has taken us by storm. We weren't expecting it," Tallman said. "The festivals are pretty expensive to put on. Last year, we didn't get the sponsorships and donations we did in the past."
Tallman added that the Huckleberry Festival already pays for reserve deputies from the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office to patrol on nights the beer garden is operating.
McDonald said the Spring Festival also provides for some of its own security expenses.
"We hire our own security service," McDonald said. "We pay for our own, and it costs about $800-$1,000 a year."
McDonald said the festival hires four individuals to patrol the area primarily between the hours from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. According to McDonald, they mainly provide security for the vendors and the merchandise left overnight in the booths during the weekend.
Poucher said festival organizers will still have the option of bringing in their own security force for the events, but the company hired must be approved in advance by the chief of police.
"You can't bring in Hell's Angels to provide security," Poucher quipped.
During the discussion preceding the vote by the Bingen City Council, council member Clinton Bryan expressed concern that the requirement to cover police costs could spell the end of the traditional annual festivals in Bingen and White Salmon.
"This has the potential of killing Huck Fest and Spring Fest," cautioned Bryan.
Backers of the measure said they did not believe the added security costs would be too much of a hardship for the festivals. Poucher also pointed out that the new policy applies only to events where alcohol is served.
"If the beer garden is that big of a money-maker, it should be able to pay for itself," said Poucher.
"The beer garden is our money-maker, but there is no profit. It just goes back into next year's fund," Tallman explained.
According to Tallman, the additional costs to pay for the extra police coverage could reach $1,200 or better.
"That's pretty steep. It would be a big bite out of our budget," Tallman said. "These festivals are not cheap to put on. We all volunteer, and it takes a lot of work."
Lloyd DeKay, president of the White Salmon Arts Council, said he understands the reasons for the new policy.
"Our Art & Wine Fusion event would be impacted by the policy, but at this time I have no idea how much impact that will be," DeKay said. "However, we realize the city budget problems require this policy, and the Arts Council will figure out ways to make it work. But we will need cooperation from the city."
"We are planning to substantially expand the Art & Wine Fusion event, which will increase the security and other costs, but should also increase the revenues," DeKay said.
DeKay said the Arts Council leaders plan to discuss the security needs with the mayor and the police chief, "particularly focusing on how to minimize security expenses."
Both McDonald and Tallman said they planned to get on the council agendas in both Bingen and White Salmon and see if a compromise can be worked out.
The issue is scheduled to be on the Jan. 20 agenda for the White Salmon City Council. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of the White Salmon Fire Hall.