North Bend and Snoqualmie consider joint police department

October 27, 2010

By Staff

NEW — 9:40 a.m. Oct. 27, 2010

North Bend is considering contracting with Snoqualmie for police services, which are currently provided by the King County Sheriff’s Office. A joint department could offer the city substantial savings.

After hearing a presentation from Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer, the North Bend City Council voted Oct. 19 to tell the county that it is considering ending its contract.

The county and city have 45 days to discuss the contract. After that period, the City Council could vote to terminate the contract, which requires an 18-month notice.

City officials have become increasingly concerned about the rising costs of its 28-year relationship with the sheriff’s office.

The contract is expected to go up about 10.8 percent — or $140,000 — in 2011. A joint department with Snoqualmie, which abuts North Bend, could save the city $250,000 per year, according to early estimates, City Administrator Duncan Wilson said.

He and Mayor Ken Hearing approached Snoqualmie about the issue.

“Based upon the proposal we heard from Snoqualmie and the cost differential … we felt it was something we had to move forward on,” Wilson said. “It is not a service-related issue.”

The City Council was receptive to the idea. It voted 5-0 in favor of notifying the county; two councilmen were absent. 

Discussions with King County

Officials from North Bend and the sheriff’s office will discuss the city’s concerns and look for solutions.

The city is interested in maintaining its relationship with the county, Wilson said.

“We will talk to the county, and we will listen to what proposals they have,” he said.

But ultimately, costs will likely drive North Bend’s decision.

“We hope they will come back with something that will bring down our expenses dramatically,” he said.

“We’re going to do everything we can to keep our relationship with North Bend,” said Sgt. John Urquhart, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

At the same time, the county can’t jeopardize its contracts with other cities, he added.

Twelve cities currently contract with the county for police services.

North Bend is not trying to play Snoqualmie and King County off each other, Wilson said.

The estimated cost of North Bend’s contract with the county is rising in 2011 for two reasons: the city’s annexations, and 5 percent wage increases for King County deputies in 2011 and 2012.

The Tanner Annex substantially increased the area patrolled by North Bend police. Because of the way the sheriff’s office calculates costs, the full impact of the annexation won’t be felt for three years.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Wilson said.

Few hurdles to joint department

There are few hurdles to starting a joint department, according to Schaffer.

“It’s entirely feasible,” he said, pointing to the Carnation-Duvall Police Department as an example. “In this situation, you’re geographically shoulder to shoulder, and it would be an issue of adding the staff to provide the services.”

Six police officers and some patrol cars would have to be added to the Snoqualmie Police Department’s current 14 officers. The joint department would be based out of the existing Snoqualmie police building.

“We have everything in place to do police work here. It would just be gearing up for more people and territory,” Schaffer said.

Snoqualmie did just that during the previous 10 years.

“We went from a city of 1,500 to a city with over 10,000,” he said.

Joining with North Bend would add another 5,000 residents to the department’s jurisdiction.

Losing the sheriff’s office contract could mean complications for the county.

Unable to call on North Bend police for backup, the number of deputies patrolling unincorporated areas around the city would have to be increased, Urquhart said.

Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or editor@snovalleystar.com.

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