By JESSE BURKHARDT
The budgetary news seems to keep going from bad to worse for the fiscally-embattled city of White Salmon.
At the Oct. 20 meeting of the White Salmon City Council, Sgt. Jim Andring of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department dropped a new bombshell on the councilors.
"I just wanted to let the council know, we're probably looking at a significant increase in dispatching costs," Andring said.
The Klickitat County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) provides emergency dispatching services to police departments, fire districts, and emergency medical services around the county, but the fees it receives from these agencies are not keeping up with the county's costs.
KCSO Undersheriff Jolene Kallio explained that the new contract is geared to more adequately cover operating costs of providing emergency dispatching services.
"We're asking the County Commissioners to look at a different method of what the cost really is and asking for reimbursement," Kallio said. "Not to make a profit, but to be reimbursed. We're looking for a more scientific way to actually measure the work load."
Kallio said that for the police departments, the fees used to be measured per law enforcement officer, with cities paying $1,460 per year for each full-time equivalent officer on staff.
Fee increases are relatively common, but Andring warned the City Council that this one was unusual.
"The increase could be 326 percent," Andring said. "The Klickitat County Sheriff's Office is looking for everybody to pay their fair share. We were expecting some kind of increase, especially considering we've not had an increase in 10 years, but holy smokes, 326 percent?"
That level of increase would boost the costs for the city of White Salmon from approximately $9,000, where it is now, to about $28,000 per year.
White Salmon's attorney, Ken Woodrich, asked whether the city could contract its dispatching services to either Skamania County or Hood River County.
"Practically speaking, we have their (KCSO) officers here, so we'd like to work with KCSO," Andring responded. "It does make a lot of sense to keep our relationship with the Sheriff's Office."
White Salmon City Administrator Pat Munyan said he thought it would be helpful to meet with Sheriff Rick McComas.
"I think it would be wise to sit down and discuss these issues with the county sheriff," Munyan said.
Andring said the proposed increase was still preliminary, and urged the council not to panic.
"It's important at this time not to overreact to these numbers," he pointed out. "It may not come down to that."
Council member Mark Peppel said the Sheriff's Office needed to let cities around the county know what the increase would be, so they could begin planning.
"Everybody is doing their budgets right now. If they don't have that information out, how can anyone plan for it?" Peppel questioned.
Kallio explained that it was the Klickitat County Commissioners that set the costs, not KCSO.
"We don't know yet what the fees will be," Kallio said. "The fees are set by county resolution, and the County Commissioners have not decided yet."
Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter said a briefing on dispatching fees was on the agenda for Oct. 26, but he did not expect a decision immediately.
"After hearing more about it, we'd want to get some feedback from the cities," Sauter said. "The board will make the final call, because it's a budget issue. We would want to get it finalized as early as we could so the cities could plan for it on their budgets."
Sauter added that if the fees need to go up, the county would look at possible ways to cushion the financial impact.
"We know the cities are hurting, but also, everybody needs to pay their share," Sauter explained.
Kallio pointed out that the last rate structure for the county's dispatching services was set in 2001.
As for the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department going to Hood River County or Skamania County for dispatching services, Kallio said she encouraged cities to go ahead and investigate alternatives.
"We don't make any revenue on this," said Kallio. "If they don't agree with the cost figures for our services, they could go to another agency."
Andring said some type of increase was understandable, but a 300 percent increase was just too much.
"They've been fair to us. They haven't raised it in 10 years. But we can't deal with those costs," Andring said.