Councilors weigh pros and cons of consolidation

The Troutdale City Council will vote Tuesday, May 13, on a resolution to contract police services with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

Following a proposal the sheriff made to the city April 1, councilors asked for more details.

The City Council held a second work session before the public on Tuesday, May 6, to take a closer look at the possibility of consolidating services with the sheriff.

As it stands, the Troutdale Police Department has 27 full-time employees, and the city pays $3.9 million a year to fund it. The sheriff proposes hiring nine city staffers to fill positions open with his department. The remaining 15 city employees would contract with the sheriff, reducing the city’s cost for police to $3.1 million annually and saving about $800,000 a year.

Both Troutdale and the sheriff’s police unions are in favor of the merger, as is the Troutdale police chief.

“There are vacancies the Sheriff’s Office has kindly slid over to Troutdale,” said Chief Scott Anderson. “We are hoping to take advantage of that.”

Aside from saving money, Troutdale police leaders say the merger will make policing safer by increasing coverage and providing additional resources to officers.

Right now, patrol officers lack supervisors on the street 29 percent of the time, said Troutdale Sgt. Joel Wendland. Consolidating with the sheriff would bump that patrol coverage to 100 percent, or what police consider standard staffing: one sergeant per two officers in each shift.

If Troutdale chose not to consolidate, Wendland said it would cost the city $387,000 to add another officer. That includes training.

Mayor Doug Daoust said, “If we want the police force that we want in Troutdale, we are going to have to spend more money.”

He added it would cost the city alone about $600,000 a year to bring the police force up to speed, versus a savings of $1.1 million a year if it decides to merge with the sheriff.

If the city does go with the sheriff, it would pay around $484,000 in transfer costs the first year, said Erich Mueller, Troutdale finance director. That is why the city would see $800,000 in savings the first year and $1.1 million in following years.

While much of the council appeared to lean in favor of the merger, Councilor David Ripma raised a number of concerns.

“We haven’t heard from any other member of staff not positive on this,” he said. “I am worried about things we are not considering that we have an obligation to consider.”

One of Ripma’s concerns was what would happen if the Multnomah County commissioners, who are responsible for approving the sheriff’s budget every year, decide to reduce the sheriff’s funding.

Sheriff Dan Staton said the county can adjust budgets for the jails, patrols for unincorporated Multnomah County and civil processes, but “any money processed through a contract with the city of Troutdale, the board cannot touch those funds.”

Staton said the city develops the contract and the sheriff abides by the contract.

“You set the terms,” he said.

The sheriff recommended a 10-year contract, if the city “wants this thing to work and flourish.” If the city adopts the resolution on Tuesday, the city would seek a “target implementation of July 1.”

Ripma asked what would happen if the cost of the sheriff’s services got too high and the city decided to terminate the contract.

“My concern is this could be a one-way street. We have the right to terminate, but we end up in this big mess,” Ripma said. “You can’t just breeze it off with a statement that it could be terminated.”

City Manager Craig Ward said he agrees that issues like these need to be addressed. But he said, “There is only so much we can do before we actually negotiate an intergovernmental agreement (with the sheriff).”

Councilor Rich Allen said, “In engineering a contract that could be terminated by either party, it would be beneficial to know how much it would cost to start a new police department.”

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