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Snoqualmie considering a new police contract with King County

SNOQUALMIE - The Snoqualmie City Council decided last week to allow the King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) to make an informational presentation to the council on contract police services.

But even talking about talking about the possibility of replacing the Snoqualmie Police Department seemed to upset many at the March 14 City Council meeting.

Several extra rows of chairs had to be added to accommodate all those who turned up to see if there was any truth to the rumors. Councilmen Greg Fullington and Matt Larson confirmed that they had met with the KCSO to gather information on contract services.

"I contacted them to gather information on what it means for a city to contract. I didn't talk about prices. It was just an information gathering process at that time," Fullington said. "As stewards of this city's money and safety, we have to look at this."

But many disagreed over the proper way to look at what the KCSO has to offer.

"I have a lot of praise for our police department," said councilman Jeff MacNichols. "I have a personal problem having having another agency come in and basically ask for their job ... I don't have a problem with them submitting something in writing."

Most City Council members, however, felt a presentation by the KCSO would be appropriate and agreed to one taking place at the next City Council meeting.

During the Snoqualmie Ridge II (SR II) deliberations, the city identified some troubling long-term trends, Larson said. It was determined that about 20 percent of the general fund revenue is generated by SR II sales tax and that in about six or seven years when the development is built out, that revenue will disappear.

"If we stayed status quo, it doesn't necessarily mean everything is hunky-dory," Larson said. "We have to be prepared for living by our means."

The city brought in a consultant during the SRII deliberations to look at Snoqualmie's levels of service across the board. The police department was the one department that was shown to have higher than normal costs compared to other departments across the state and nation.

The police budget accounts for about 27 percent of the general fund (though about $160,000 of that is jail fees and a dispatch contract).

Larson said that though the council will examine each and every part of the budget, it is looking at the police department now because its contract is up for renewal and numbers are needed for the 2006 budget. He said the fire department is also up for renewal and there may be questions there as well.

"No one's being picked on," Larson said. "The council is trying to be fair, deliberate and thorough, looking at all the information, looking at all the options."

In a March 8 e-mail to other City Council members, Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher and Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer, Fullington stated that, "Over the last five-plus years, the KCSO's contracting abilities and costs have evolved dramatically. Currently there are 12 cities that contract with the KCSO. Judging from the contracts I have reviewed from some of these cities, I firmly believe further discussion must take place regarding this option. ... Please keep in mind that the contracting capabilities/costs of the KCSO have dramatically changed in recent years, making former discussions by the city with the KCSO moot," Fullington wrote.

Larson said it's the council's responsibility to clearly understand the financial tradeoffs, though he would consider taking the issue to the voters.

"There's a lot of value in the idea of a town that has it's own police department," Larson said. "It's not my first inclination to go with King County, my first inclination is to get more information."

Schaffer said the move to look into service through the county was a blow to Snoqualmie Police officers, but that it would be premature to comment on why the city should stick with them.

"I feel the Snoqualmie Police Department is well established in our community, it is part of our community and is a value to our community. This is demoralizing for these officers for those reasons. They are a huge part of this community," Schaffer said. "I will endeavor to keep the morale up and participate fully in the fiscal review of our budget and the city's fiscal status."

The Snoqualmie Police force consists of 13 full-time commissioned police officers. There are no part-time employees. Schaffer said the department has been looking into budget adjustments.

Sydney Zvara, Snoqualmie resident, said the council should choose their police service as they would choose a surgeon - opting for value over cost.

"If you're not emotional about the city's police coverage, I don't know what else you would be emotional about," Zvara said.

The KCSO will make an informational presentation at 6 p.m. Monday, March 28, at the new Snoqualmie Fire Department, 37600 S.E. Snoqualmie Parkway. The Snoqualmie Police Department will respond to the KCSO presentation at the City Council roundtable meeting to be held at 6 p.m. Monday, April 11, at the new fire station. Both meetings are open to the public.

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