ELMA — Sheriff Rick Scott spent an hour fielding questions from Elma City Council members and Mayor Dave Osgood Monday night during a workshop looking at what it might be like if the city gave up its police services and contracted to have deputies patrol the city limits.
The move is spurred by Elma Police Chief Jeff Troumbley, his top lieutenant and another officer all potentially leaving or retiring from the police department in the coming months. Osgood says there’s no rush on a decision, but it’s a conversation he wants to pursue because he sees some potential savings that could be found.
Troumbley says he bought property out of state, although hasn’t announced any firm retirement plans yet.
“My officers know the discussion that’s taking place and know that with the potential of losing three officers on our seven-man force, this could be a possibility,” Troumbley said.
Councilman Tom Boling said he was worried what would happen to the remaining police officers,
Scott said that if Elma contracts out services, he would likely need to hire positions to fill those needs and state law would allow him to automatically hire any of the remaining Elma Police Department staff so long as they meet the minimum hiring requirements.
Scott says he wasn’t prepared to offer up any firm figures on what it would cost to patrol the city limits, but says there likely would be a savings. For one thing, the city would no longer have to maintain its own fleet of vehicles or liability insurance coverage for the police department. The county handles that.
Osgood offered up that the city would also not have to improve its police headquarters, which would cost a minimum $1 million to get it up to the proper standards.
Scott said he wouldn’t really have a need for the city’s police building.
“Our patrol cars have everything our deputies need,” Scott said, “They’re equipped as a rolling office.”
Mayor Osgood asked how long deputies typically stay during their career.
Undersheriff Dave Pimentel noted that in the past 16 years, the Sheriff’s Office has only lost one deputy, who wanted to seek out employment elsewhere. Typically, deputies who are hired will stay on for their entire law enforcement career — or smaller cities like Montesano or Elma will be “training ground” for those officers, who then will transfer on and get hired as a deputy.
Scott said the Sheriff’s Office is going through a hiring spell right now because so many retirements happened all at once.
One of the differences, Boling pointed out, between the Elma Police responses and Sheriff responses is in the way the departments treat residential burglar alarms. Elma responds. Deputies do not. Scott notes that panic alarms triggered by a human or a commercial alarm get response from a deputy, but not a residential alarm. Scott said the city could pay extra in its contract to get a response, however, if it’s important to the council.
“Anything is up for negotiation,” Scott said.
Scott said the city can approach the contract one of two ways. Either the city can say what coverage they want and then a price quote can be determined or the city can be what the city can afford. For instance, if the city wants guaranteed 120 hours of patrol time within the city limits, the city can pay for that. If a 911 call comes in and a response is needed, Scott says a deputy would still respond within five to 10 minutes on an as-needed basis.
Scott notes the city of Leavenworth in Eastern Washington buys 50-hour blocks of over-time at a discount rate to get coverage during special events. Such an arrangement could be worked out with Elma to provide extra coverage for Heat on the Street or other events, Scott said.
Councilwoman Debbie Thurman said she felt that the Elma Police Department is part of what makes Elma a great community, just like the library and the senior center.
“Any gain we make will probably not be a huge gain,” Thurman said. “Cutting from the police department is the wrong way to start.”
The workshop was also attended by several McCleary City Council members, who have also been taking a look at contracting police services to the Sheriff’s Office. The city of McCleary has two tax measures on the ballot asking residents there for a property tax increase to help sustain the local police department. If it fails, then the city will have to look at cost-saving measures.
Sheriff Scott noted that if McCleary and Elma join Oakville, which already contracts police services, then there will be an increased deputy presence in East County. He says he always had one or two deputies in East County now and would increase that level should more cities contract services.
That said, Scott was careful to note he wasn’t there to sell the service or pitch it. He was just there to answer questions.