Every year the small towns in southern Spokane County get a bill from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to cover the cost of deputies responding to calls. The cost usually increases a bit every year and the number is nervously watched by city councils facing the reality of small, tight budgets.
This year the towns of Fairfield, Rockford, Latah, Spangle and Waverly got a shock when Spokane County proposed a different formula to set the rates. It would tie contract costs to the number of calls for service. Rockford, facing a 60 percent increase in cost, was the hardest hit.
The town paid $26,317 in 2010, and that would have risen to $42,136 in 2011. That’s no small number when the town expects to cover expenses of $235,000 out of the general fund in 2011.
If that proposal had been approved by Spokane County commissioners, the town of Rockford would have had to cancel its law enforcement contract, said Mayor Micki Harnois. “There’s no way we could have done it,” she said. “Our budget wouldn’t allow it.”
That worried Harnois. “That was the biggest concern, not knowing if we would be without,” she said.
The town began to research other policing options before Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich stepped in with a proposal to cap the increase at 10 percent. The cap does not apply to separate contracts the county has with the cities of Spokane Valley, Deer Park and Medical Lake.
“I really do commend Ozzie,” Harnois said. “He really does understand our dilemma.”
Knezovich said he didn’t hesitate to step up for the small towns. “We’ve always given them a break on their law enforcement because they can’t afford to pay the full price,” he said. “It doesn’t affect our bottom line. We’ve always done it that way.”
One deputy is on patrol at any given time in the district that includes the five towns. While it costs $138,000 per deputy per year for everything including salary, equipment and investigations, the five towns will only pay a combined $94,903 in 2011.
“We just realize the small communities are really hurting right now,” Knezovich said.
Rockford was facing the biggest increase despite its small population because of its location on state Highway 27. People who are heading to the casino in Worley, Idaho, pass through the town. That drives up the number of calls requiring a deputy.
“There’s just so much traffic,” Harnois said.
Fairfield and Spangle have much smaller cost increases of 8 percent. The cost actually went down for Latah under the new formula while the town of Waverly also benefitted from the cap by having its increase lowered from 16 percent to 10 percent.
Now Rockford will be paying a much more manageable $28,949 this year. “It’s only a couple thousand dollars more a year,” Harnois said. “It’s something we can live with. It’s tolerable.”