Half-time police contract likely for Carnation

Carnation is in the final stages of reducing its police services.

The city of 1,900 people, which buys police coverage from the city of Duvall, can no longer afford its present level of service, three full-time officers on a rotating schedule, and has been negotiating with Duvall on a contract change.

City Administrator Ken Carter presented an updated proposal for a two-year contract, negotiated with Duvall-Carnation Police Chief Glenn Merryman and Mayor Will Ibershof, to the council Feb. 21. The proposal limits the number of officers to 2.25, with another half-time position in administrative services, for $453,883, which is about $20,000 less than the council agreed to budget for police services in December.

Coverage would be reduced to about half time—the previous contract was for three-quarter-time coverage. However, Carter stressed that emergency situations would still be covered through the contract's included "flex" hours, time allocated and charged to the city outside of its standard coverage hours. The flex hours might never be used, but they could be banked, Carter said. If the city were to exceed its allocated flex hours, the Duvall-Carnation Police Department would bill the city for the excess time.

For non-emergencies, police will respond only when they are on-duty, which will cause some delays in response times. Council members were concerned about the community education aspect of this change, and Carter said he was aware of the issue, which would require good communications between himself and the Police Chief.

Also, standard coverage hours will vary from week, to week, to avoid creating predictable periods of no police coverage.

Carter frankly admitted that he was worried about the city under the new contract, but said this contract was fair. "It's good for Duvall, it's good for Carnation because we make effective use of the people," he said. "It provides some flexibility, perhaps not as great of flexibility as we have now," but added that flexibility was a luxury the city could no longer afford.

For 2012, Carnation was expecting to pay about $512,000 for police services alone, and almost $600,000 when court costs were included in the total. Council members determined that there was not room in the city's $1.1 million budget to cut the $20,000 needed to make up the difference, and asked voters to approve a levy lid lift. The measure authorized the city to levy $1.90 per $1,000 of assessed value in property taxes, bringing in about $90,000 more annually for the next six years, to cover this year's contracts, plus future price increases.

The measure failed. The council endured several difficult discussions and several rounds of criticism and pleas to not cut police services during public comment sessions at council meetings, and then decided in November to budget what the city could afford for police, $474,098, and negotiate a new contract.

Carnation's City Council is expected to vote on the new police contract at its next meeting, Tuesday, March 6, 7 p.m. at Carnation City Hall.

Since January, police have covered the city at the same level of service as in 2011. However, Carter pointed out that this was more than the city had budgeted, and so the council would have to approve a budget amendment later in the year to cover these costs.


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