One-month contract can be renewed by towns’ mayors

By Ann McCreary

After a busy Fourth of July weekend without any official police protection, the Winthrop Town Council voted last week to renew a contract with Twisp for police coverage for one month.

The council approved a contract from July 12 – Aug. 11 at a cost of $25,000. The contract provides that Twisp’s three full-time police officers will split their 10-hour shifts between Twisp and Winthrop.

The new contract is higher than a previous $17,000-per-month contract that expired June 30 because it includes the services of a third officer who recently joined the Twisp police department. The contract also authorizes the mayors of each town to renew the contract without a full council vote for up to three months.

The new contract was included for approval on the agenda for the Twisp Town Council’s meeting on Tuesday (July 11).

Winthrop has been without a town police force since Feb. 22, when the former marshal was fired. The town is currently conducting a background check on one candidate for marshal, and hopes to have that process completed by the time the new contract with Twisp ends in August.

Council members discussed their options for police protection, including relying on the Okanogan County Sheriff’s office to respond to calls.

Sheriff’s deputies could be far from Winthrop, however, when an incident occurs in town, said Rick Northcott, recently appointed mayor.

Twisp police would likely respond in that scenario even without a contract, said Bob DeHart. “If you dial 911, it goes to the county [dispatch] then to Twisp,” DeHart said. “I didn’t like it [the contract with Twisp] the first time.”

“One side says let’s go with the county,” said council member Mike Strulic. “I’m tired of that money going out the door. The other side says bite the bullet … it’s an issue we have to deal with. If we said we won’t fund full coverage and something happened, it all falls back on us.”

“We’re not paying an officer right now … the $25,000 I don’t think is that large an amount of money comparatively,” Strulic said.

Northcott, who was appointed as mayor last month after Anne Acheson resigned, raised the now-familiar issue of Winthrop’s lack of police coverage. Acheson’s resignation was largely due to ongoing controversy over her decision to fire the town marshal.

“We need to make some decisions,” including whether Winthrop wants to continue trying to rebuild its own police department, or whether the town wants to contract or merge with Twisp’s police department, Northcott said.

“At this point I don’t think Twisp wants to talk merger,” Northcott said.

“We can’t merge what we don’t have,” DeHart said.

The firing of Marshal Hal Henning in February was the latest in a long string of problems that have left the Winthrop Marshal’s Office understaffed or without any officers on several occasions in recent years.

“There will come a time when we say, ‘Do we want to continue looking for marshal applicants?’” said Northcott, who has previously said he would like to see a consolidated police force to serve both Twisp and Winthrop.

The council voted to approve the new one-month contract, with DeHart abstaining.