The Othello Police cannot afford a proposal by Adams County to jointly upgrade their communications systems, even with the county footing the entire bill for the first year.
“We don’t have the money,” Police Chief Phil Schenck told the city council Monday evening.
The proposal by Motorola would allow both Adams County and the city of Othello to replace their dispatch equipment and allow the two agencies to hand off communications to each other should the need arise, as well as provide progressive upgrades as new equipment is available.
The proposal would cost each agency about $90,000 for five years, with Adams County proposing the bear the entire cost for the first year.
Schenck said at this point, $90,000 per year would be a “severe hardship” on the Othello Police and require laying off a police officer or reducing hours.
Replacing the current dispatch system is critical, Schenck said, and he has not been able to find any grant funding that would cover the cost of the joint proposal with Adams County. So he is looking at less expensive systems that won’t allow close coordination with Adams County.
“They will have less capabilities but will meet our needs,” Schenck said. “It will be something we can afford.”
Police have had to go on E-Bay to find parts for the current dispatch system. He also said that while working on its quote, Motorola fixed the current police antenna after finding it had been hit by lightning and was not broadcasting at full strength.
Schenck also said the city doesn’t have the money to hire a probation officer, even with Adams County bearing half the costs of that as well. Based on his experience in Sunnyside, Schenck said the fees collected won’t even begin to cover the $50,000 yearly costs to the city.
“The judge orders costs, but they are often pro-rated on the ability to pay,” Schenck said. “It’s not worth laying off a police officer to hire a probation officer.”
At some point, Schenck said, Adams County will likely demand Othello pay a bigger share of “law and justice” costs, especially for cases involving city ordinances.
“We need a court more than we need a parole officer,” the chief said. “And we’re in no position to create a municipal court.”
“But you came to us with this,” responded Council Member John Lallas. “Maybe you aren’t getting enough funding.”
“I really want you to get what you need. It’s our responsibility as a council,” Lallas added.
Lallas said the council might need to consider taking money from other departments to ensure the police can pay for new vehicles, firearms, and a new communications system.
Schenck said he was waiting for some proposals for less expensive systems that will give the city the capabilities it needs. He hopes to have those for the next council meeting.
“I think you will be pleasantly surprised,” he told council members.