By JESSE BURKHARDT
Faced with a take it or leave it offer from the Bingen City Council, the White Salmon City Council has finally approved an amended interlocal agreement for police services.
On the evening of Nov. 17, after about three months of haggling, members of White Salmon's council voted 4-1 to accept Bingen's offer, which will boost Bingen's contribution to the joint Bingen/White Salmon Police Department from 23 percent to 32 percent.
The enhanced payments will bring an added $80,000 in revenue to the city of White Salmon's 2011 budget.
The key stumbling block in finalizing the deal centered around language that White Salmon councilors believed would mean the police chief would have "two bosses" -- a situation they said was unacceptable.
Bingen has asked for its mayor to be given more oversight of police activities within Bingen.
"In the event of a dispute between the mayors regarding the delivery of law enforcement services provided by the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department in Bingen, the mayor of Bingen shall have, regarding the disputed issue, ultimate oversight authority over the police chief ... in the city of Bingen. In all other instances, the mayor of White Salmon shall directly supervise the police chief," read an excerpt from the revised contract.
The issue was also on the agenda at Bingen's Nov. 16 council meeting. At that session, Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes told Bingen's council members that White Salmon Mayor David Poucher did not believe White Salmon councilors would agree to the "proposed language on two bosses."
"He told me, `I don't believe my council will vote to take Bingen's money if this condition is included,'" Barnes explained. "I said, `Fine.'"
Bingen council member Catherine Kiewit expressed support for Mayor Barnes' position.
"That's fine with me too. If they don't feel comfortable signing this, OK, we'll keep our money," said Kiewit.
In a 5-0 vote, Bingen's council decided to call for Bingen's mayor to have oversight when it comes to police activities within the Bingen city limits.
"I find it hard to imagine it's such an issue with them that they would turn down $80,000 over it," said Bingen council member Clinton Bryan.
"This would be a very very rare instance when this would happen, but it's important to the city of Bingen," explained Bingen city attorney Anthony Connors during the Nov. 17 meeting.
Connors added that Bingen council members were weary of the issue and needed to move on.
"The Bingen council has said, `here it is; it's an up or down thing,'" Connors explained. "The council members are tired of going back and forth and nothing getting done. Bingen will withdraw the offer if you do not accept it tonight."
In a Nov. 17 letter from Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes to the White Salmon City Council and Mayor David Poucher, Bingen requested a final vote that evening.
"The city of Bingen stands ready to increase its contribution toward law enforcement services from 23.4 percent to 32 percent for September 2010 through December 2011," Barnes wrote. "The city of Bingen respectfully requests that the city of White Salmon take action -- accepting or rejecting -- the proposed amendments ... by the end of its Nov. 17 council meeting. It is imperative that action be taken so the city of Bingen can finalize its budget for 2011. If the White Salmon City Council does not take action by the end of its Nov. 17 meeting, the proposed amendments are immediately withdrawn. The current interlocal agreement that expires Dec. 31, 2014, continues to be in effect and the city of Bingen expects it to be enforced."
"That's the call, guys," White Salmon's attorney, Ken Woodrich, explained to the council members. "Bingen has sort of drawn a line in the sand. They reasonably need to get their own budget ready. If we don't accept this, it's a fairly large financial hit to our city, but it's your call."
Council member Anthony Coulter implored his fellow council members to take Bingen's offer.
"It's $80,000," Coulter said.
"At a price," pointed out council member Adrian Bradford. "We have been going back and forth since August discussing this issue with Bingen, asking them to pay their fair share, and getting nowhere. Is this what we have to look forward to?"
"It's $80,000," reiterated Coulter. "Compare the hassle of possibly every now and then having an argument with Bingen versus $80,000. It will look bad in the newspaper if we don't accept $80,000."
A White Salmon citizen at the meeting urged the City Council to accept the added payment from Bingen.
"I would think and expect the City Council and mayor to make this agreement with Bingen -- otherwise we'll have to dig into our pockets and have a mess for a Police Department," said Herb Hardin. "It's your responsibility to work together. Please make an agreement."
Coulter made a motion to accept Bingen's offer, and the council voted 4-1 to do so.
Councilors Anthony Coulter, Bob Landgren, Mark Peppel, and Richard Marx voted to OK the amended interlocal agreement; councilor Adrian Bradford voted to oppose the deal.
After the meeting, Mayor Poucher said he was happy the council acted.
"I was glad the City Council finally accepted the deal from Bingen. It's been a long, drawn out process to get there," Poucher said. "In the end, it's $80,000 -- that's a lot of money that could have been left on the table."
Poucher added that White Salmon will see the first installment of that money almost immediately.
"My understanding is, they are going to give us $21,000 extra for this year. They'll write us a check."