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McCleary mayor threatens mass layoffs of police force, citywide closures

McCleary Mayor Gary Dent is threatening to eliminate just about every aspect of city services, including the local police and fire departments, if voters don’t approve a potential property tax increase.

In a revised budget proposal introduced last week, Dent has proposed a budget that lays off a police officer and a police clerk position.

And he says if the voters don’t approve a potential $400,000 maintenance and operations levy, then he will lay off every other police officer, including the chief; close the museum, close the library, stop funding the city cemetery and city parks and turn to Elma to handle` fire services. Other employees may also be laid off.

Dent’s new budget, unveiled during a council meeting on Nov. 20, came in the form of a harshly worded memo to McClearly City Council members. He wasn’t at the meeting. He needed to be at home resting because of a long day, according to the clerk-treasurer. He said later he has an illness he’d rather not disclose to the public.

Without his presence, it left a lot of questions and not a lot of answers for a room full of people, including the police chief and several of his officers and their families, who were in attendance at the council meeting last week.

Council members took no action on the budget, with Councilman Jeff Catterlin telling the crowd he had just received it about an hour before the meeting. Councilman Brent Schiller added that he had read the memo and had a lot of questions.

Police Chief George Crumb said he was just about as surprised as anybody else.

“This all came about rather suddenly,” Crumb said, adding that he’s told his employees about the pending layoff.

The first and most obvious question came from McCleary Realtor Helen Lake, who wondered why a budget the mayor introduced on Oct. 30 had no layoffs and the one introduced just days after Dent won re-election did have so many cuts — and a long list of more cuts to come.

Nobody really had a good answer to that one and Dent wasn’t in the room to answer.

On Oct. 30, Dent introduced a $1.109 million operating budget that actually increased spending in the law enforcement budget by about $4,000.

On Nov. 20, Dent introduced a new $1.071 million operating budget. The only difference in revenues is that the new budget spends $37,700 less in reserves than the first version. The new Nov. 20 budget also included a memorandum from Dent to the City Council with copies of it distributed to the public.

The memo states that in an effort to prepare a balanced budget that would lay off a police officer position and a police clerk position. He’ll also cut the city’s building official position down from 20 hours a week to eight hours a week.

“I will enter into negotiations with Mayor Dave Osgood from Elma for combining court services and may have to cut the court clerk position if an agreement is reached,” Dent wrote. “I will also enter into negotiations with Mayor Osgood from Elma for combining fire protections services.”

Chief Crumb says that the city’s court clerk position and police clerk position is the same person, who would lose her job altogether if both halves of her position are eliminated.

Elma Mayor Dave Osgood says he hasn’t had a sit-down with Dent yet, but had heard there was an interest in merging services.

“We talked two years ago about consolidating courts — all of us, McCleray, Elma and Montesano,” Osgood said. “And McCleary really didn’t have much interest at that time.”

If it makes financial sense for Elma to combine fire services and court services, then it’s something the city would consider doing, Osgood said.

“It would have to be a win for all of us,” Osgood said.

Dent says his new budget depends on a transfer of $110,000 from reserves, leaving $82,165 as a leftover balance. That compares with his Oct. 30 proposed budget that wanted to spend $147,700 in reserves to leave $44,465.

“I am open to selling city-owned properties,” Dent wrote.

Lake says she looked into that option for the city and only found two potential properties that would have any real value on the market. And she said the chances of those properties selling for their appraised value in this market is pretty slim.

Dent’s memo also states that he’ll be asking for a $400,000 two-year maintenance and operations levy for the police department. The levy would be to avoid “additional cuts,” the mayor writes, not save the jobs already on the chopping block.

“If the levy fails, I am prepared to make the following cuts,” he writes. “Close the museum down. Close the McCleary Library. Seek volunteers to help maintain the cemetery and parks. Lay off utility employees.”

He says he’ll also “enter into negotiations with the city of Elma and Grays Harbor County for police services and dismantle the McCleary Police Department.”

Chief Crumb told the City Council that the city really needs a five-member department to adequately patrol the city. That’s what the city had when he was hired on in 1994. But, the city has had a four-man department for years now. And, after this year, with the pending layoff, it would be down to two patrol officers and himself.

The city of Oakville discontinued its police force in 2006 and contracted with the county. The city now pays the county $110,000 a year to provide a minimum of 40 hours of police coverage a week, plus the other arms of the Sheriff’s Office, including animal control.

Extrapolating from Oakville’s contract, to provide 120 hours of coverage to McCleary from the Sheriff’s Office, could cost $330,000 a year.

Dent is proposing a law enforcement budget of $533,820 next year, down from the $646,061 budgeted in 2013. The city also has a $5,000 budget for jail costs. Those figures include about $90,000 in costs to pay for old pension plans that the city would still be on the hook for even if the police force was dismantled.

In a brief phone interview a couple of days later, Dent said that the city’s budgets had depended on fund transfers that he thinks should still be allowed, but he has department heads that tell him he can’t use those dollars anymore.

“There’s an in-house dispute between some of my management people over the funds we use,” Dent said. “It’s become very difficult legally to use that anymore. So, I’m making some changes. We need to find more revenue while we try to hold on.”

Dent says he wouldn’t want to compete with a potential levy the McCleary School District will likely run in February so he’s pushing for a later election date. Details are still being worked out, he said.