By Jack Mayne
With aging and dilapidated police cars, the Normandy Park City Council is trying to decide whether to buy four new cars or only two, even one, right away.
Acting Police Chief Brian Sommer (pictured above) told the Council at their Tuesday night meeting (April 26) the city has not bought a new police vehicle since 2011 and it once replaced vehicles every five years.
Previous Chief Chris Gaddis and the city staff had reached an agreement on borrowing $160,000 from the state at 1.6 percent interest for five years to purchase four new vehicles “to replace our aging fleet,” Sommer said.
‘Long, hard look’
Councilmember Kathleen Waters said much has changed since her finance committee got the proposal last January form Gaddis. She said given “the upcoming major change in law enforcement administration, I’d suggest we take a long, hard look at this proposal even though it has been brought before the public and several presentations from the previous chief.”
The city is “in dire (financial) straits and the new chief might have a different view,” so she recommended waiting for a new police chief to make a purchase decision.
Waters said there was no question that some vehicles needed to be replaced and maintenance costs and the purchase finance rate was favorable, but said she worried abut the affect on city voters of buying four new police cars all at once.
She also noted that the Council is soon to begin preparations on a new biennial budget that must be approved by the end of the year.
Two vehicles should be purchased now, Waters said, and that would “certainly reduce expenses” and give the department a serviceable fleet.
Sommer said one car, a Charger, needs $1,000 in engine work and that it was basically not worth the expense. The Tahoe, that he drives, “is on its way out, too, and needs about $10,000 in major repairs,” he said.
“My concern is that we won’t have enough vehicles to do our job,” Sommer said. “Yesterday, with the three vehicles we had in service … all were in use.
“It’s my position that four makes sense to me,” the acting chief said.
Two now, two later?
Councilmember Michelle Sipes-Marvin suggested the city buy two vehicles now and two more next January, depending on “what happens to the levy.”
“The recommendation is to go with four,” said City Manager Mark Hoppen. “It’s cheaper in the long run to buy four cars … and establish a more reasonable replacement schedule.”
Councilmember Tom Munslow said having a police car break down is a major problem and buying four at one time makes sense, but there is political concerned with getting the levy lid lift passed and having four new cars.
“I think it is wise to take a chance on the political part and go ahead and get all four cars now.”
Councilmember Susan West said there needs to be communications to the public that police cars and the people the levy lid lift approval would finance “are two completely separate things.”
Mayor Jonathan Chicquette said he wanted to “make sure we all understand” the equipment purchase budget, different from the personnel budget, already has money for four cars. If fewer are purchased, “that money is unused for police vehicles.”
Hoppen said buying four would be doing things in an orderly way, not having to react to “oh, oh, this car broke.”
Waters said she worried about the optics of four cars and its reaction on the voters that rejected the levy lid last year.
Hoppen said the staff will come up with financial specifics for Council consideration and decision, perhaps on May 10.
Homeless law passed
The Council also approved a homeless encampment ordinance virtually identical to ordinances passed by most other cities in the state. It applies only to encampments on property owned by religious organizations.
No such requests have been made to local religious groups or to the city.
The city under 2010 state law (RCW 35.21.915) is required to establish such regulations “which authorize religious organizations to host temporary encampments for homeless persons on property owned or controlled by a religious organization.”
That law says the city cannot prohibit homeless camps or impose any greater conditions than those “necessary to protect public health and safety.”
The ordinance includes rules that must be followed if a faith-based organization wants to sponsor a temporary homeless encampment on property they either own or control such as under a valid lease.