SHAKING DOWN THE CITIZENS by Tom Davis, Shelton

Last week County Commissioner’s approved a two year, $80,000 contract between the Sheriff’s Office and the community of Timberlakes for “enhanced” policing services. The agreement is paramount to an admission that something is terribly wrong.

Currently, 46% of the general fund is allocated toward Public Safety. In 2012 the Sheriff’s Office budget was $9,020,522, including supplemental appropriations. That’s $268,204 over the previous year. If you add in the budgets for Traffic Policing and Courthouse Security, the number increases to a bit over $10M.

So why are some communities paying twice for the same policing services, once with their property taxes and again under an “enhanced” agreement.

One of two things is happening: either the Sheriff’s Office is underfunded, or it is not being run efficiently. The county could write a blank check and hope for the best, but it would be wiser to hire a law enforcement efficiency consultant to assess the situation and make recommendations. If more funding is needed, then so be it. But if the conclusion points to a need for improved efficiency, then the Sheriff will need to make whatever adjustments necessary to keep citizens from having to pay twice for the same services.

There is also another problem: too many reports from citizens complaining that the Sheriff’s Office is failing to respond to calls for assistance in a timely manner.

The Sheriff argues that his budget was cut, but the audited numbers do not entirely support that position. While it is true some monies were cut from road diversion tax, no significant change was made to the total policing budget, certainly none that would justify an increase in complaints.

Departmental politics brings problems, not solutions. The Sheriff’s Office and County Commissioners need to get on with their respective responsibilities of providing services within the adopted budget and adopting a budget that allows those services be provided, without charging citizens twice.

 

2 thoughts on “SHAKING DOWN THE CITIZENS by Tom Davis, Shelton”

  1. Thanks, Herb, I appreciate your opinion, which appears to be well thought out and founded in practicality, and I agree with some of the points you make.

    Here is my perspective, which may, in some regard, be unique: Over the past 14 months I have attended every BOCC briefing and meeting (and all Port and most City meetings). I have done this to get, both an appreciation of the inner workings of local government, and to promote a sense of continuity of purpose (vision) among the three municipalities. (Apropos of nothing, I have attended more BOCC meetings than any of our County Commissioners.)

    One of the things I have learned is that departmental politics, personality conflicts and personal ideology is often the root cause of what would otherwise appear chronic systemic problems. So much so, it is sometimes difficult separate the merits of an issue (which I call the “wheat”) from the rhetoric (the “chaff”). In my opinion, the issue of adequate funding for the Sherriff’s Office falls squarely in latter category. Enter the consultant:

    While I am not typically a big fan of consultants, sometimes an objective perspective is key to what, on the surface, may seem an unsolvable problem. If the issue at hand were a traffic problem, or whether we should privatize the county solid waste system, I’d agree to wait for the next election to bring clearer heads to the table, but it’s not. It is giving legs to a long term public policy that affects our day to day safety.

    There is no comparing money to safety, and any arrangement that affects response times is a matter of grave public interest, and one that warrants a public hearing, even if not required.

    What started with Lake Cushman is now in Timberlakes, and it is unlikely to stop there. While this issue may not seem worthy of getting all worked up about, when private contracts involving a public agency charged with public safety start competing, it may be too late. Such is the power of precedents.
    There is, of course, more to this issue than can be discussed here, much more. But the outcome will be the same.

    Thanks for participating.

  2. Tom, I usually agree with you on your comments, however, this time I think you are off base espicially with your comment of wasting more of our money for consultants. That is one of my real hard spot with government and hiring consultants who provide very little if any advice and then lots of that advice is wrong. Just look at the mess their advice created with the Belfair Sewer issue…..

    Yes, MCSO has signed an agreement with Timberlakes for a maximum of $40,000 to be billed on an hourly basis for the amount of time a deputy spends in this community and I believe it covers overtime costs to make sure a deputy can respond. This agreement is modeled after the agreement with the Lake Cushman Assn which has been in place for a number of years and has been very successful in that community. What these agreements do is provide extra service for that specific area with a specific deputy spending a good portion of their time policing that community, however, that deputy will respond to other calls in Mason County as the need arises. Now between these two contracts, the Sheriff’s Dept can fund one deputy which might not exist if those contracts did not supliment their budget.

    In my opinion, the MCSO is UNDERFUNDED and does not have enough deputies on duty to fully provide adequate public safety to all the citizens of Mason County. I have stated that several times to our County Commissioners to no avail. I know our County does have a budget problem, however public safety must be our County’s number one concern and I do not believe it is under the current commission. Hopefully this will change with this next election. Presently we do not have enough deputies on the street who can respond to all of our county’s 911 calls in a timely manner. Yes, they respond to all calls but since we may have as few as two or three deputies on duty on some shifts, they have to prioritized to as to which call to respond to first and a matter of life and death obviously is a higher priority call than responding to a burglary or incident which is not in progress. Then also keep in mind that a deputy might have to drive over 50 miles in one direction to get to the caller.

    Without going through all the numbers which I do not have at hand, I do know that our MCSO has not increased in size over the last 33 years that I have lived here to keep up with the population growth of Mason County which was around 18,000 when I moved here in 1979 to around 60,000 today. I am not sure they have any more deputies today than they had back then but I do know that it costs more in salary, benefits, equipment, fuel, etc. to keep our Sheriff’s Dept functioning every year, so not increasing the budget for our Sheriff’s Dept cannot provide additional and better service. I think our Sheriff has done a fantastic job in trimming any fat to the point where there is nothing else that he can trim other than deputies.

    So, however you want to call it, it takes more money to provide improved protection and service. Maybe it is time for all of our residents to think about paying more money for our Criminal Justice System rather than complaining that they are not getting their money’s worth…..

    Herb Gerhardt
    Belfair

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