Grays Harbor Sheriff Rick Scott presented a workshop Wednesday to the Cosmopolis City Council about the possibility of the department providing police services for the city of around 1,700.
Cities and towns hire county departments because it can cut liability costs way down and can be more cost effective, depending on the level of service provided, Scott said. A “full-time equivalent” deputy costs about $110,000 per year, he added.
“If memory serves, this will be the fourth time since I was hired as chief that a ‘services contract’ has been proposed,” Cosmopolis Police Chief Casey Stratton said Thursday. None have been enacted. Cosmopolis currently has a clerk, two officers and a deputy chief led by Chief Stratton, who also takes a patrol shift.
The city is close to hiring a third officer, which would provide the city with policing 24 hours day, seven days per week, he said. Cosmopolis planned two budgets for 2014, Stratton said. One with four officers was a little more than $500,000 and the other, counting the new hire, totals $668,148, he said. The overall budget for Cosmopolis is around $4 million a year.
The sheriff estimated it would take the equivalent of five deputies or so to cover the area full time, plus expenses that would be negotiated. So, if Cosmopolis city government opts for 24/7 coverage, it could cost about the same as the force costs now.
Costs can vary depending on the amount of service selected by the town contracting for service, Scott said.
No decision will be made to change without consulting townspeople in an all-town meeting such as the one held when the pulp mill closed, Council Member and Mayor ProTem Frank Chestnut said.
Mayor Vickie Raines did not attend the workshop, arriving to chair the council meeting afterwards. Raines, who is running for county commissioner, said she was approached by Scott about the idea when they saw one another at a restaurant in Montesano. The decision is up to the council, she said.
The county’s only city client currently is Oakville, which is signed up for a 40-hour a week of a deputy’s time, he said. The department also responds to calls from Oakville. Crime has gone down there, Scott said.
Newly elected Oakville Mayor Thomas Sims agreed. “And, for a community of 700 people, it saved a good chunk of money, some $200,000 in costs over time for liability and medical insurance,” he said.
Oakville’s Clerk-Treasurer Amy Durga said the Sheriff’s Office was hired before she arrived in 2007. The contract costs the city $110,000 annually. So far, the city has not been charged for jailing people who have been arrested, Durga said. The 40 hours is spread over random times seven days per week. The department averages the hours, she said. The service works well and reflects what Oakville can afford, she agreed.
During questions following the workshop, Cosmopolis Council Member Jim Ancich said he has noticed more speeding through Oakville on his commutes working for Grays Harbor PUD. Sims said Oakville has a very small city limit sign and people may not slow down because they are unaware they are in a town, despite a posted speed limit of 30 mph.
Cosmopolis Council Member Debbie Moran, as others, praised the work of the local force. She and Chief Stratton worried whether all the officers and the clerk could be absorbed into the Sheriff’s Department.
While it was true that officers would likely earn a higher salary as deputies, Stratton noted that one of the strengths of a local force was that they know “half the town.”
This was born out during the council meeting held after the workshop when Public Works/Community Development Director Darrin Raines praised the work of Officer Gabe Tarnowski who spotted a water main break in the middle of the night recently. Rather than call 911 for help, he called authorities directly, getting a response to the area quickly.
Tarnowski, who was given a commendation, said he would reserve judgment about the possibility of a change. Scott also praised the work of the local force and said he wasn’t necessarily looking to take on more work. Stratton and the council in turn praised the work of the department, which qualifies for higher standards adjudicated by state and federal sheriff groups that vet the work of local authorities.
The department, which has 75 employees, is one of six out of 39 in the state with the higher rating, Scott said.
The sheriff made a similar presentation in Westport recently. With more clients in the western side of the county, more deputy power would very likely be assigned and based nearby, he said. Those in the police departments who qualified would be hired if positions are available.
Several state sheriff’s departments contract with cities and towns for services. Shoreline and Sammamish are two that are policed by King County; Chelan County provides services for Cashmere and Leavenworth among others, Scott said.
Council members called for more due diligence. Public Safety Committee Chairman Carl Sperring will meet with new Council Member Jonathan Fischer about the issue.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DW_Erin