The dire and unexpected announcement came from Bingen's city attorney, Anthony Connors.
"There is no longer 24-7 police coverage in Bingen," Connors told members of the Bingen City Council at the start of the regular council meeting on Nov. 16. "That's the situation -- 24-7 coverage is not being provided. That's all there is to it."
An angry Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes told her council members that she felt the city of White Salmon, and White Salmon Mayor David Poucher, had not been open about the Bingen/White Salmon Police Department's lack of police coverage.
"I'd like to point out that I was never notified of this. I just found out today," Barnes explained. "I had suspicions, and I called Mayor Poucher and confronted him with it. He said it was true."
Poucher confirmed that there is no longer constant police coverage in the Bingen/White Salmon community. He explained that White Salmon stopped providing 24-hour law enforcement services "about a month ago."
"We kept it quiet because of officer safety," explained Poucher. "We probably should have gone to Mayor Barnes and said, `this is what we're doing.' It was a hard decision to make. But when we don't have the money -- we can't spend money we don't have."
Poucher pointed out that the times without coverage are minimal.
"It is no more than four hours in any given day," Poucher said, "and the times are moved around."
Poucher said Bingen/White Salmon Police Sgt. Jim Andring has the ability to "pick and choose" the times there won't be police coverage.
Barnes said she has expressed her displeasure to Mayor Poucher about the lack of disclosure.
"I think it's a cover-up," Barnes pointed out.
Poucher claimed he did not inform the city of Bingen about the loss of around the clock coverage out of concern for officer safety if the news got out to the public.
"We didn't make it public because we didn't want anybody saying, 'OK, let's see what time it is that there is no one on duty,'" Poucher said.
Barnes rejected that reasoning.
"I feel the public has a right to know to be extra vigilant at times like this," Barnes explained. "Due to our interlocal agreement (for police services) and the public's right to know, I felt it was something our City Council needed to know."
Poucher said that even in the hours there is no officer patrolling, an officer will be on call.
"They have to ready to be anywhere in White Salmon or Bingen within 10 minutes," Poucher explained.
The interlocal agreement was a contract the city of White Salmon and the city of Bingen entered into in 2000. The deal called for Bingen and White Salmon to maintain a joint Bingen/White Salmon Police Department, with Bingen paying White Salmon for police coverage.
The city councils of both Bingen and White Salmon renewed the original police services contract in 2008. It is in effect through 2014.
Barnes said the lack of coverage came after the city of White Salmon, in a budget move, mandated that city employees could no longer receive any overtime pay.
"In other words, with only four officers, it's impossible to run the Police Department 24-7 with no overtime," said Bingen council member Clinton Bryan.
The Police Department is expected to hire a police chief and another police officer early in 2011.
Poucher said it was strictly a budget problem that led to the reduced police coverage.
"We were on 24-7 previously, but had not calculated for overtime. There is not enough overtime available to cover 24-7," he explained.
Poucher added that he anticipates the community will be back on 24-7 coverage as of Jan. 1, 2011.
However, after the White Salmon City Council accepted Bingen's offer to reconfigure the interlocal police services agreement last week, the city of White Salmon will receive an unanticipated 2010 budget payment of $21,000 from Bingen.
Mayor Barnes said that money should be used to ensure that the police force can budget for the overtime hours necessary to get back on 24-7 coverage.
"The council will have to vote on that -- it's up to them," Poucher said.
Given the forthcoming extra payment from Bingen, Barnes said there is no longer any justification in not providing around the clock police patrolling.
"With the additional money for 2010, we can get back to 24-7 on-duty coverage," Barnes explained. "It would be hard to justify why that would not happen, now that we're going to hand them $21,000."