Troutdale City Council votes to dissolve the police department, contract with sheriff

The sworn police officers of the Troutdale Police Department could all become Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office deputies in July after the City Council approved disbanding its law enforcement agency Tuesday night in a 4-to-3 vote.

Councilors approved a 10-year contract with the county for law enforcement services that guarantees immediate pay increases for police, better services for the city’s more than 16,000 residents and taxpayer savings, supporters of the proposal said.

The decision wasn’t easy. At times, discussions were heated during the meeting that lasted more than 2.5 hours in front of about 100 residents and city staff inside a community room at the city’s Glenn Otto Park.

Among opponents’ main concerns: Residents have not had enough time to review the details for an important decision after the final version of the contract was released March 3 with only one public meeting since. Some asked for a nonbinding citizen vote before any decision.

“When people say we haven’t heard enough about this, it’s always a challenge in a town of 16,000 people … to get your neighbors engaged,” said Mayor Doug Daoust, adding that local print media have covered the issue along with the nonprofit television station MetroEast Community Media.

Ultimately, Daoust made the tie-breaking vote in support of the contract. Councilors John Wilson, Eric Anderson and Larry Morgan voted in favor, and Councilors Glenn White, Rich Allen and David Ripma voted against.

Troutdale would join Wood Village and Maywood Park in contracting with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. In Washington County, Cornelius took the step last year.

Ripma, the most vocal opponent, tried to delay the issue, but his peers rejected the idea in a 3-to-3 vote with Daoust voting against. Ripma said he was skeptical but not necessarily against the proposal. He wanted residents to vote on the matter.

“It looks to a councilor — me — like the job of the staff was to sell it to the council after they had made a decision of what they thought was best,” Ripma said.

The approval means city taxpayers could pay $3.7 million to Multnomah County instead of paying $4.5 million to keep their police department beginning in July, but the agreement still needs approval from the county’s Board of Commissioners in the coming months.

Commissioner Diane McKeel, who represents the city and eastern county areas, said she was pleased with the vote.

“Troutdale is going to get the police coverage that is important for them,” McKeel said, “and it helps us fill vacancies with some very qualified outstanding officers.”

After the first year, the city payment would drop to $3.4 million a year because of one-time-only costs such as the money transfer to pay for employee vacation and sick leave.

Troutdale Police Chief Scott Anderson said the city needs the agreement, regardless of taxpayer savings. Supporters of the deal have said patrol officers need supervision at all hours of the day, a practice the city can’t afford today.

“It’s not appropriate for me to send cars out there on random patrol when we don’t have access to a software program that can provide me with crime trends. … We get that, which is a $57,000 value, from the sheriff’s office at no cost to us,” Anderson said.

Anderson would be given the newly created rank of commander to work under the sheriff. The commander would report to the City Council with performance measures such as response times, and Sheriff Dan Staton promised to keep Anderson after a six-month transition.

The city employs 27 officers and support staff. Under the contract, the city would pay for 16 personnel, including a captain, sergeants, deputies, detectives and administrative staff, to cover the city.

Other city personnel would fill vacancies within the sheriff’s office. Staton said Tuesday that 22 vacancies recently dropped by five.

Each year, city leaders can increase or decrease the number of police personnel, which would change the annual price tag.

A Troutdale officer earns $62,852 a year compared with $71,729 for a Multnomah County deputy or $80,748 for a Portland officer, according to a presentation this month from city finance director Erich Mueller.

The city’s Budget Committee did not approve the agreement, said Allen who voted against the proposal. Any savings will be spent, he added.

“For the public, you will have fewer officers budgeted to serve the same populations,” Allen said. “You may not have the same dedicated officers that know the community.”

Troutdale officers would have to bid for their morning, afternoon and evening shifts against other deputies after a six-month transition period. The Troutdale Police Officers Association and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association support the agreement.

Staton and others have said the agreement brings more efficient support from the sheriff’s office, which employs hundreds, to the proposed 16 police personnel. However, Staton also said a lot of that support exists today without this contract.

“It’s a very sad day to lose our community police,” Allen said. “It feels like a divorce, and I wasn’t told they were unhappy until another suitor came along. There was no chance to address the issues. Three councilors and the mayor had made up their mind.”

In other action, the City Council approved leasing its $7.5 million police station, built in 2010, to the sheriff’s office for $208,952 a year. The sheriff’s office would relocate some of its patrol division to the station to better cover eastern areas of the county, Staton said.

Of the 19,214 square feet in the building, the county would use 72.5 percent of the building and the city would continue using the rest, which houses the city attorney and legal staff, computer servers and a community room.

“I sincerely believe with all of my heart as your mayor that this is a win for the city,” Daoust said.

— Tony Hernandez