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Half-time cops for Tolt: Carnation OKs smaller police contract, gets sign-off from Duvall

Three months into the year, Carnation has committed to a 2012-13 contract for police services, which slightly reduces the city’s overall coverage.

The City Council voted 4-1 on March 6 to approve a contract that eliminates one full-time officer from the city’s police rotation, but allows for an additional few hours of “flex time,” for officers to respond to emergencies outside of scheduled hours.

“It provides roughly 50 percent coverage during the week… The actual times may vary,” said City Manager Ken Carter, when he presented the new contract.

Carter was directed by the council to negotiate the reduced contract in December, when councilmembers resigned themselves to a reduced police services budget.

Carnation, with an annual budget of about $1.1 million, buys police services from the city of Duvall, and was anticipating a 2012 cost of $512,000 for police services alone.

Including court costs, the public safety budget would have exceeded $600,000.

An attempted levy lid lift failed by 30 votes in November, leaving the council to debate how to proceed.

After much discussion, they budgeted $474,098, and asked Carter to negotiate a new contract for police services, preserving coverage without exceeding the budget.

The contract approved will cost the city $453,883, about $20,000 less than budgeted. Carter said this allows the city a cushion against possible police salary increases in 2013. The contract includes 2.25 full-time officers to patrol the city, with another .5 position for administrative issues. It does not detail other items the city is obligated to buy, for the shared use of the Carnation-Duvall Police Department, including a new bulletproof vest this year, and potentially a new car next year.

Asked why the items weren’t in the proposed contract, Carter pointed out that the city had already gone two months without a contract, and said it might be possible that the city would not have to buy a car next year.

One of the questions the city will have to ask at that time, he said, is “Is it fair for us to provide three cars, with this level of manpower?”

Also on the subject of police cars, Mayor Jim Berger asked about the possibility of keeping one of the city’s three cars in the city, whether it was staffed or not.

“It would be nice to have one here as a deterrent,” he said.

None of the council were happy about voting to reduce police services, especially in light of recent break-ins in the area, mentioned by Fred Bereswill. He and Berger, the council’s public safety committee, brought up the idea of forming a neighborhood watch, and planned to meet with Police Chief Glenn Merryman about the issue.

“In situations like this, the neighborhood’s eyes and ears are the best choice we have right now,” Bereswill said.

Councilman Mike Flowers was opposed to voting on the contract that evening, since a volunteer citizen committee that was formed to examine the city budget and suggest possible cuts had not finished its work.

“It bothers me that what we’re going to do, essentially, is reduce our police coverage, our safety net, one of the primary services we should be providing to our citizens… before they’ve finished that work,” he said.

The shortfall this year was only $10,000, he noted, and he believed the citizens group might be able to find that amount in other cuts. That committee, however, was only making recommendations for 2013 and beyond.

Flowers cast the only opposing vote to the contract, which was then forwarded to the Duvall City Council for a vote March 8. Duvall’s council had additional questions, and postponed the vote until its next meeting, Thursday, March 22, when the contract was approved.

 

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