A faulty idea
In a surprise move, the White Salmon City Council placed the following action item on its March 3 agenda: "Discuss preparing a request for proposal (RFP) for police coverage from Klickitat County and Skamania County."
Essentially, the idea would be to see if the city could save money by contracting with an area Sheriff's Office for law enforcement coverage -- instead of having to pay for a local police force.
After hearing strong opposition to the idea from many of the citizens in attendance, one of the council members who supports the RFP plan complained that people were assuming the council was about to shut down the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department. He went on to say that all the council had in mind with the proposed RFP inquiry was an effort to save money.
Well, we believe there is a very good reason why the public fears the worst: The council needs only to look at its own recent history -- in particular the January decision to deny the Police Department's request to buy an additional police car. In that case, local citizens came out in force to urge the council to authorize an additional $27,000 so the police could get two new cars instead of just one.
The council did not listen to the loud public voice of support for the purchase, nor did the council heed the wishes of the mayor of Bingen and the Bingen City Council, which also supported the car purchase. The council just said "No."
The council did not listen to the citizens then. So it's no wonder community residents are fearful that, once again, a majority of White Salmon's council members may have their minds made up and are determined to find a way to close down the Police Department in an effort to "save money."
Council members say they are pursuing the RFP just for information on possible ways to save the city money. But when Klickitat County Sheriff Rick McComas openly tells the council, in a public session: "I don't believe I'm going to save you any money," we all have to wonder what the point of moving forward really is. When the chair of the City Council's Budget Committee and the Finance Committee says this proposal has never come up in those committees, we have to wonder if this idea really is solely about finances and budget considerations. And when one of the council members, again in public session, says the move to go out for RFPs "carries the mark of a personal grudge," again, that raises a lot of questions.
Yet despite objections from a strong majority of those in the crowd, the council voted 3-2 to go ahead with considering whether contracting with the KCSO or SCSO would be an effective way to provide police coverage.
After the vote, one of the Bingen-White Salmon Police officers addressed the council, saying this: "It's to the point where I'm wondering if you're going to contract with the Goldendale Fire Department to provide fire coverage here," he said.
Great point. There has to be a balance between cutting costs and providing essential services for the community, and in our view, there simply is no substitute for having a local Police Department.
We believe this "request for proposals" is misguided, and it should be dropped.