Eatonville leaders might dissolve the small town’s Police Department and hire the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to provide coverage.
Mayor Ray Harper said he has talked with sheriff’s officials about a contract and that the move would result in significant savings.
He said the potential change is not related to complaints from residents and merchants about what they describe as overly aggressive traffic enforcement in the past few months. The News Tribune wrote about the controversy in a front-page story Wednesday.
“I like them all. They’re good officers,” Harper said of the Eatonville police force. “I just don’t see any other way to pay our bills.”
Nothing is final. Eatonville’s Town Council would have to sign off on any pact.
Harper said the Town Council is set to discuss the possibility at a meeting next week.
A sheriff’s spokesman said Wednesday that officials from his office recently talked with Eatonville leaders about providing coverage during hours when the town’s Police Department doesn’t have enough officers on duty.
He said he didn’t have information on any talks to provide coverage beyond that.
The Sheriff’s Department covers unincorporated parts of the county, as well as Edgewood and University Place.
Eatonville, in the foothills of Mount Rainier, incorporated in 1909.
Police Chief Kevin Wade said his town of 2,800 residents deserves a proactive police force, and “I think we give that to them.”
He said he cares about the town and its residents and wants to see his department stay.
The department has five full-time officers, including Wade, and two reserve officers.
Harper said he has been looking “at everything” to solve Eatonville’s budget problems.
A contract with the sheriff’s office would cost the town about $225,000 less than it takes now to operate the department, he said.
This year, the Police Department’s budget is about $616,000, Harper said.
The town’s Police and Fire departments are hefty expenses for Eatonville. Harper said the town’s $1.9 million general operating fund is running at a deficit and “something had to give.”
He said he twice proposed a utility tax increase to help with public-safety expenses, but the council didn’t sign off on that.
Harper said he’s also laying off three full- or part-time town workers: an administrative assistant, a court clerk and a building inspector.
One town councilman said Wednesday that he’s not sure where he stands on disbanding the Police Department. In an ideal world, Eatonville would have its own police force and fire department, said Councilman Brenden Pierce.
But, “we’re in hard economic times. The budget is very, very tight,” he said.
“I’m willing to look at anything, but I haven’t made up my mind,” Pierce said.
Sara Schilling: 253-552-7058