To save money, Snohomish police officers might work under county sheriff

  • By Rikki King and Alejandro Dominguez Herald Writers
  • Friday, May 6, 2011 5:19pm
  • Local NewsSnohomish

SNOHOMISH — The city of Snohomish is considering contracting for police service to save money.

That’s just one of several options city officials say are on the table as they grapple with a projected $1 million gap between estimated revenue and expenses in 2012.

A Seattle television st

ation on Friday evening reported that Snohomish is considering cutting its police force.

That’s not quite true.

“The issue has been blown out of context. We are not planning to cut the police department,” Mayor Karen Guzak said.

City officials have asked the Snohomish County She

riff’s Office to meet with them to discuss the details of a possible partnership. The sheriff’s office already contracts to provide law enforcement services in Sultan, Gold Bar and Stanwood. Until recently, it had a similar arrangement in Granite Falls.

“We’ve provided (Snohomish) with that preliminary information, and there is no formal agreement at this time,” Snohomish County Undersheriff Tom Davis said Friday. “We do look forward to ongoing discussions with the city and to partnering with them in the future.”

City officials aren’t scheduled to even talk about the idea until the city council’s budget retreat Tuesday night. Guzak said that if Snohomish contracts with the sheriff’s office, some police officers would be paid by the county instead of by the city. Under that option, some administrative employees could be laid off but not officers, she said.

“This is all talk right now. Nothing is to be decided until late summer,” Guzak said, adding that cutting officers is “unlikely to happen.”

Snohomish Police Chief John Turner declined to comment Friday afternoon, referring all questions to the city manager, Larry Bauman.

A police service contract is just one option on a list of concepts city staff prepared for council consideration, Bauman said.

“We’re trying to develop just sort of a menu for options for the city council,” he said.

The list went on the city’s website on Friday and was presented to city and police staff at a meeting Friday morning.

Before any of the ideas are taken seriously, the council must decide which to pursue, Bauman said.

Councilman Tom Hamilton stressed that contracting for police services is just an option.

“We’re possibly looking into reinventing the government,” he said.

Police services makes up the largest general fund expenditures for the city, Hamilton said. If the city decides to contract with the sheriff’s office, he expects the change would mostly be psychological.

The contract proposal doesn’t include the police chief job. That’s because Turner is retired as a commissioned law enforcement officer, and works for the city as a contract employee managing the department, Bauman said.

Turner has about a year left on his contract. It specifies the city may let him go at any time, with or without cause.

News that the police department could face big changes hit hard with people in town who have been working hard for months to increase the department’s profile.

The Snohomish Police Foundation recently went public with its efforts to raise money to save the department’s police dog program. The city’s two police dogs were removed from service after funding was axed in last winter’s budget cuts. The foundation recently obtained state nonprofit status and is awaiting federal approval.

Foundation members found out about the proposed sheriff’s contract Friday afternoon. Leaders declined to comment and said they were waiting to see what happens.

However, they all live in Snohomish and have worked closely with the police department in recent months. They spoke to the Herald in that role, and not on behalf of the group.

People are deeply concerned about Turner’s job, Rolf Rautenberg said. He went to Turner personally after drug problems sprang up in his neighborhood awhile back.

The chief went out of his way to meet with neighbors and helped get other government agencies involved, Rautenberg said. When Turner talked about the problem, people listened.

“He actually started to help in a way that went beyond the routine call of duty,” he said.

The budget isn’t final until the end of the year, Rautenberg said.

“There is some time for them to think about what they’re going to do and change their minds if they’re just rushing to make a judgment on this and it’s not the best for our city,” he said.

Rumors have been flying around town for about a month, but it seemed to be mostly hearsay, said Ron Knutsen, who also is involved in the foundation. He was speaking only for himself and not the group, he said.

He’s also worried about Turner’s job, he said. “It’s just terrible. It just makes me sick,” he said.

He hopes people who live in town will support police.

“Snohomish is a community town,” he said. “The town needs to voice themselves and let (the council) know how they feel. We need that personal touch of our own police department. We’re too big to contract out.”

Documents prepared for the retreat detail how the city of about 9,000 people has been facing declining revenues since 2008, and each year reducing expenses to keep the budget balanced.

The latest projections for this year show the city spending about $125,000 more than its revenues.

If spending follows projections in 2012, the gap would be more than $1 million, the documents show.

The budget documents also offer a number of options to curb spending, including cuts to the planning department, public works, street maintenance and parks. The options being studied would include contracting out street maintenance and upkeep for parks.

It’s too early to talk about cuts to personnel, Bauman said.

“That’s way down the road,” he said “We’re not at that stage in the process.”

Budget retreat

The City Council has scheduled a budget retreat at 6 p.m., Tuesday, at the George Gilbertson Boardroom, 1601 Ave. D.

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