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North Bend considers police contract change that Carnation made years ago
North Bend is not the first Valley city to weigh the pros and cons of ending its contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office, but it is the largest.
Carnation, with about one fourth the population and no easy freeway access, seems to have little in common with North Bend, but the city faced the same debates as North Bend when it came to public safety. Like North Bend, the city had its own police department years ago, which it disbanded when it opted for a police services contract with the Sheriff’s Department. And like North Bend, when Carnation considered contracting with a neighboring city for police services, the surrounding unincorporated residents expressed real concerns about the effect to their own police coverage.
As of press time, North Bend’s City Council was scheduled to vote Aug. 21 on canceling its longstanding contract with the Sheriff’s Department and entering a five-year contract with the city of Snoqualmie’s police department. The decision follows months of discussions in regular and work-study council meetings, a public meeting for testimony from residents in April, and a July phone survey of 120 residents.
“This is not going to be an easy decision for any of us,” Councilman Alan Gothelf stated during a discussion on the phone survey results Aug. 7.
Carnation’s council voted in 2004 to end the sheriff’s contract and throw in with the city of Duvall’s police department, which was renamed the Duvall-Carnation Police Department. The partnership between the two cities continues today, but Carnation had to reduce its level of service when the contract was renewed this year, because of stagnant revenues.
The new contract reduces police coverage from about three fourths of the time to about half time, with additional “flex” hours budgeted for emergencies. Despite the cut, the contract is still the best solution for public safety that the city can afford, according to City Manager Ken Carter.
“We’re too small to have our own (police department),” he explained. This contract enables the city to provide the needed coverage, without breaking its budget, or any state laws—the state constitution prohibits cities from making gifts of public funds to any entity. The flex hours, which the city pays for but doesn’t necessarily use every week, are what make it possible, Carter explained.
“As long as the service is provided and the needs of the community are met, then we have not gifted anything,” he said. “They haven’t gifted anything to us. On average we’re paying for the service.”
North Bend is now balancing the needs of its community against the cost of services, too. The expense of contracting with the sheriff, estimated at about $1.44 million this year, prompted the city to take a closer look at its police contract, but the level of service is the top concern of many councilmen.
“What’s going to be better from a public safety perspective?” Gothelf says this question is his first consideration.
North Bend currently contracts for a “flex model” department, but is considering a “dedicated model.” The flex model puts a deputy on patrol within city limits around the clock, and is cheaper, since the city does not pay overtime or sick leave, but it can result in deputies on patrol who are unfamiliar with the city and its people. The dedicated model commits a specific deputy to the city, week in and week out, but is consequently more expensive.
Under North Bend’s current contract, “they pay for 5.1 deputies to provide for patrols of the city of North Bend, and they also pay for three quarters of their Chief of Police,” said Dave Jutilla, Chief Deputy with the sheriff’s office. The remainder of the police chief’s cost is covered by the county, Jutilla added, for “supervisory management” of deputies in the unincorporated areas surrounding North Bend.
Police Chief Mark Toner notes that his nine deputies (six for city limits) all want to be assigned to North Bend.
“The only time we get changes up here right now is 1) if somebody gets transferred or promoted… or 2) if somebody is on vacation,” Toner said. “We get consistent people, so they know the community, and they know the area.”
North Bend essentially gets the benefit of a dedicated group of officers, with the flex model price tag now, but Toner agrees that a dedicated model could benefit the city even more.
“We could be more effective in our crime-fighting with a dedicated group,” Toner said.
Snoqualmie’s five-year proposal offers the city the equivalent of a dedicated model, with one officer of the 20-member department (currently, Snoqualmie has 14 officers, but would hire six more to meet the demands of the North Bend contract) on patrol at all times. Chief Steve McCulley would serve as police chief for both cities, and the city would preserve ownership of the cars and equipment it would purchase as its share of startup costs for the contract, estimated at $387,000.
When North Bend’s Council met Tuesday, City Administrator Londi Lindell was set to present them with the final five-year cost projections for four different proposals: their current flex model; Snoqualmie’s proposed dedicated model; a dedicated model from the sheriff’s department; and a “modified-dedicated” model that gives North Bend an additional deputy for use as needed.
“What they really want is named, identified, dedicated officers who are assigned to work in North Bend as much as possible,” Jutilla said, of his discussions with the North Bend City Council. “They have that very much right now,” he added, but with the modified-dedicated model, he said his department would give the city a .9 credit for another deputy within city limits.
Toner will have the latitude to select six deputies as North Bend police, Jutilla said, and the city will have the option to identify them with uniforms and cars. The cost of this model would be similar to the flex costs, although “discretionary overtime,” such as staffing up for city events like the Block Party and Festival at Mount Si, would be a city responsibility.
Of the four models, Lindell noted that Snoqualmie’s proposal, averaging $1.4 million over five years, is still the least expensive. However, she added “I think one of the concerns with the Snoqualmie model is we’ll be sharing a police chief …” which may make citizens feel isolated. “I think it’s important to have a person in command who they can go to…they’re going to want a place to go and have their questions answered.”
McCulley has said his department, if awarded the contract, will do “a lot of community outreach, meeting with the businesses, seeing what their needs are, and just making sure that we’re stepping off on the right foot.”