Newport police officers would trade their blue uniforms for sheriff’s green under a cost-cutting proposal by city officials.
But Pend Oreille County Prosecutor Tom Metzger sees red when the subject comes up: lots of red ink for the county.
City Administrator Jack Henderson said city officials hope to trim their burgeoning criminal justice costs by transferring their police cars and three of four city police officers to the county sheriff’s department.
The city proposes to pay the Sheriff’s Department $142,000 a year for police protection.
Some savings would be achieved by letting Sheriff Doug Malby handle administrative duties while Police Chief Gary Markwardt pounds a beat, either for the city or the county.
But the big savings would come from forcing the county to pay for prosecution, public defense and court costs for criminal misdemeanors that are now a city responsibility. (Felony prosecution already is a county responsibility.)
“I hope we can save $100,000,” Henderson said.
That seems unlikely, though. Malby said he is willing to discuss the proposal, but he doesn’t really want the headache of dealing with the city’s juvenile delinquency and other problems that occur less frequently in rural areas.
And certainly not for $142,000 when the contract would require the sheriff to cite offenders under state instead of city laws. That would force the county government to pay the city’s prosecution and other court costs.
“I just can’t put the county taxpayers in the position to pick up the entire tab for that,” Malby said.
If city officials want a deal, they’ll have to satisfy Metzger and county commissioners, the sheriff said.
“There’s no way we have the capacity to pick that up,” Metzger said.
He said the city files “a little more than 400 criminal cases” a year while the county is “pushing 600 cases right now.” Metzger said at least one more deputy prosecutor would be required, but there’s no room for anyone else in his cramped offices.
The draft contract calls for the county to collect fines from the city cases it handles, but Metzger noted that the proposal calls for the city to continue handling lucrative traffic cases.
He said the contract is an attempt to circumvent a state law that says cities that repeal their misdemeanor ordinances must reimburse counties for prosecution costs.
Police Chief Markwardt agreed that the city could save $100,000 a year. The police budget alone is about $190,000 and total criminal justice spending is around $250,000 a year, he said.
Markwardt said he is not strongly opposed to the proposal, but doesn’t think Newport residents would be satisfied with the level of protection they would receive.
“I think the city fathers should ask the people of the city what they want, and I don’t think they have done that,” Markwardt said.
The contract calls for the Sheriff’s Department to patrol the city for 16 hours each weekday and 48 hours each weekend, but doesn’t specify how many officers would be assigned. The remaining city officer would work the day shift and be responsible for animal-law violations, traffic cases and cases under the city’s “Public Peace, Morals and Welfare” code.
Henderson said council members directed him to pursue the costcutting contract because lawenforcement costs have risen to “almost 60 percent” of the city’s current expense budget.
“That is getting to be significant when you look at all of the other services that we have to provide,” he said.