Eatonville’s decades-old police department won’t become history after all.
The Town Council in a unanimous vote Monday night rejected the mayor’s proposal to disband the force and hire the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement services in the Mount Rainier foothills community.
The vote came after roughly a half hour of public comment and a presentation from Sheriff’s officials, including Sheriff Paul Pastor.
Council members said they respect the county’s operation. But “I think the people have said they want to keep the police department,” said Councilman Gordon Bowman. “The majority of people I’ve been listening to say they’d be willing to pay more for it.”
Councilman Jim Valentine said the town must examine its budget, especially public safety, and find ways to save.
“When I look at the contract and look at the cost I think we could control the cost better internally than by contracting it out,” he said.
The council’s vote, before a standing-room only crowd at the town’s community center, was met with cheering and loud applause.
Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Ray Harper explained that he had proposed contracting with the county as a way for the cash-strapped town to keep its head above water.
“I don’t try to make the townspeople angry. This wasn’t my first choice or my second choice. Or even my third choice,” he said. “We’re broke.”
The town’s $1.9 million general operating fund, which covers expenses including the police and fire departments, is running at a deficit, and the council has been hesitant to raise taxes, Harper has said.
Last week, state auditors slapped the town with a finding for using money donated for a trail and pedestrian bridge project to shore up the general fund in 2010. Harper said contracting for sheriff’s services would free up money to replenish those donations, but that they’ll be replaced no matter what.
Under the proposed five-year sheriff’s contract, the town would have paid about $394,000 annually, using 2012 rates. The contract included two deputies dedicated to the town of 2,800 people, plus supervisor time, some extra patrols, around-the-clock emergency call response and jail, dispatch and records services.
This year, the town is budgeted to pay about $616,000 for police.
The Sheriff’s Department, in addition to providing law enforcement coverage for all of unincorporated Pierce County, also contracts with the cities of University Place and Edgewood.
‘LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE’
During public comments, Eatonville residents said they worried the community wouldn’t get the same attention from Sheriff’s deputies as they do from their own police force. Eatonville Police Department has five-full time officers, including the chief, and two reserve officers.
“If you make the wrong decision now, we’re stuck with it for five years,” resident Pat Kahler told the council. “These people didn’t come here for a social call. They came to tell you how they feel. Listen to the people.”
Stephen Cossalman, a local dentist, urged the council to “consider figuring out how to raise some tax money.
“I’m willing to pay more,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people in this room willing to pay more if that’s what it takes.”
Harper also proposed replacing the town’s municipal court with county court and prosecution services. That was moved to the council’s next meeting.
Sara Schilling: 253-552-7058 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street Twitter: @TNTschilling