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Price tag for Durham police service in question

Tualatin reconsiders costs of providing police presence in Durham
by: Jaime Valdez Patrick and Karyn Pecknold stand outside of their Durham home. The Pecknolds say they see Tualatin police officers every so often due to occasional illicit activities at Durham City Park, but maintain that the area is relatively peaceful.

Police service will continue in Durham through the end of the year, thanks to an annual contract with Tualatin.

Tualatin police could continue to patrol its neighbor to the northwest under a new five-year contract expected to go before Durham leaders in less than a month, but the price tag could cause a bump in the road to its approval.

Durham, a city with a population smaller than some high schools, does not have its own police force. Tucked between Tigard and Tualatin, Durham has operated for 22 years under a contract with the Tualatin police force.

In 2009, Durham paid about $42,000 a year for these services, but when Tualatin decided to re-evaluate its cost for the service in 2010, that price tag more than doubled.

During the last fiscal year, Durham paid $91,280, or the cost equivalent of one mid-range, full-time officer.

Still, members of the Tualatin City Council believe that number does not accurately represent the full cost of services.

'The council felt that it was unfair to the taxpayers of Tualatin to subsidize this service to Durham,' said Tualatin City Councilor Ed Truax. 'There's more to the cost of a police officer in a patrol car than hourly wages. It's an ongoing expense.'

Truax has been the leading voice in bringing the Durham contract to a full-absorption model, in which Durham would pay for the total cost of service, including training, vehicle maintenance, gasoline, bullets, retirement benefits, health insurance and uniforms. Other costs include the time it takes to make court appearances, write reports, conduct follow-up investigations and more.

According to this payment model, every hour spent on services provided should directly correlate with a percentage of Tualatin's total operating budget.

Calls for service originating out of Durham currently make up 2.31 percent of all calls made to the Tualatin Police Department. If Durham paid 2.31 percent of the Tualatin police budget, it would amount to $138,086 each year.

'The service they're providing is a service we appreciate,' said Durham City Administrator Roland Signett. 'We think they're doing a good job, and we need to see what the value of that service is.'

Tualatin City Manager Sherilyn Lombos and Tualatin Chief of Police Kent Barker have met with Signett for the past two years to discuss the annual contract. Each year, the Tualatin City Council has asked Lombos and Barker to do their best to get Durham to pay the full cost. Though that has yet to be accomplished, Truax acknowledges that any increase is a step in the right direction.

'We need to be able to do some long-term planning that will get us to the point where we're paying an amount that is appropriate.' Signett said. 'We just need to look at all the angles.'

Lombos agreed.

'It's not a matter of if Durham is able to pay, but how,' Lombos said.

One suggestion on the table is to draft a levy calling for the citizens of Durham to pay a tax to fund the police services. Currently, Durham residents pay 49 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value in property taxes. Tualatin residents pay $2.26 per $1,000 of assessed value.

'This isn't about Durham,' Truax said. 'We're happy to provide the service to them, I just think that if Durham receives the same services as the citizens of Tualatin, they should pay the same rate that we do. As a member of the Tualatin City Council, I have to look out for the Tualatin taxpayers.'

A town without a force

Another solution considered was the complete withdrawal of Tualatin's police coverage in Durham. In the past, some have argued that Durham, with a population of just more than 1,300 residents, needs so little police assistance that it would do just fine with no more than 911 emergency response.

Indeed, Durham's criminal activities have steadily decreased in recent years. There were 682 calls for service in 2007 and 552 in 2010.

Some Durham residents say their tiny city is relatively peaceful but that the presence of a police force has been a comfort.

'When we call the Tualatin Police, they're quick to respond,' said Karyn Pecknold, who has lived in Durham for 18 years and said she has witnessed a few car break-ins and an occasional drug deal at Durham City Park over the years.

'Other than that, it's been a quiet neighborhood,' Pecknold said. 'But we see the police coming up here late at night, and it's good peace of mind.'