Tonasket hires new police officer

TONASKET – The Tonasket Police Department has is has returned to its full complement of officers with the hiring of Matthew Beard, reported Police Chief Rob Burks at the Tuesday, Aug. 12, meeting of the Tonasket City Council.

Beard fills the position vacated by Audra Fuller, who resigned at the end of June.

Burks said that, though Beard will need to attend academy to complete his training, he brings with him quite a bit of experience as a reserve.

“He’s been a reserve in Republic for the past couple of years,” Burks said. “Since he already has Reserve Academy, when you hire somebody full time you’re allowed to use them for up to six months before sending them to the Academy.

“It’ll take about a month before he’s working shifts by himself. He was already at a level in Republic where he was able to work shifts by himself, so it’s just a matter of him learning how we do things here.

“I think he’ll be a good addition. He seems to have a good balance about him.”

Report night

Most of the meeting featured reports from the council members and city staff. The most discussion surrounded a couple of issues brought up by Mayor Patrick Plumb and City Superintendent Hugh Jensen – the unauthorized use of city water by out-of-area fire crews, and a WDOT error that resulted in a crosswalk being painted on a corner next to pre-existing “no crossing” signs.

The unauthorized use of city water by outside fire agencies was a particularly sore subject for Jensen. Trucks not equipped with backflow regulators could damage the entire system, he said; plus, the city has to account for water that is used and by hooking up to a hydrant without a meter, there was no way to track it. He also cited an instance in another city of what he called “back siphoning”, where a truck pulled so much water from the system that it sucked water out of residences and compromised the city’s entire water system.

“This is so big,” Jensen said. “It happens in other parts of the country. It costs cities millions of dollars to replace pipes because someone wasn’t doing their job and it’s not going to happen here. If they want water, they need to notify us and we can put a meter on it, and put a backflow on it. I don’t want someone hitting our hydrants that aren’t qualified.”

Jensen said there were at least four instances of unauthorized use, a couple coming after he had delivered warning. He also commended the Tonasket Fire Department for alerting him to at least one such instance.

Even more frustrating, he said, is that there was free water available for filling trucks at the Tonasket Rodeo Grounds and the US Forest Service facility in town.

“One way to alleviate this – because we will have other bad fire seasons – we create information packets,” said council member Jill Vugteveen, who is a USFS fire fighter. “That tells them the rules and expectations of our county, our district, and things that we can and can’t do. One of them could be that if you are managing an engine and you need to fill, these are the only places that you can do so. It wouldn’t be hard to add that for the outside (firefighting) resources come in.

The extra cross walk is at the intersection of 2nd and Whitcomb. That same intersection has the crossing signal, installed just over a year ago, on the north side corners; there isn’t supposed to be a separate crossing on the south side, but after the road was chip sealed a new cross walk was painted onto the road there.

“I found out who was in charge and told him he had a problem,” Jensen said. “They put too many crosswalks in. He looks at his sheet and he says – yep, nine of them (along Whitcomb). I said yes, that’s what you put in all right, but there were only supposed to be eight. So the state messed up.”

Jensen said the DOT assured him it would be removed, but he wasn’t given a time table.

“They also said they would give us back our real cross walk (at the lit crossing),” Plumb said. “The dried ones rather than the paint they just put on there. We spent a lot of money on that crosswalk. The DOT guys sat in here and said they would give that crosswalk back and we haven’t seen it yet.”

In other reports:

* Council member Claire Jeffko asked if the city could warn or fine those who have not cleaned up fire hazards around their properties, especially in light of the severity of this year’s fire season.

Plumb said that the issue of private property right complicated matters, and that if warnings were given out, by the time one could judge of the offender had complied, the fire danger could well have abated.

“Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to educate,” Plumb said. “We’ve used social media during this time to talk about, if you have stuff laying against your house like firewood, pallets, tall weeds …”

Council member Scott Olson read the ordinance that applied to fire hazards.

“I think education,” he said. “(Fire Chief Christian Johnson) knocking on the door, feeling it’s dangerous … I’m just thinking, this could be a long term thing where we try to become as fire wise as we can, where we get people more ready for when the fire does come down the hill from the east or the west, where don’t have lots that catch on fire. A big part is educating people in town of what the hazards are in town.”

She also said she’d been asked by a resident if “Children at Play” signs could be put up to slow down drivers along Seventh Street. There was some discussion on the topic, but Burks said that he would not be in favor of such signs as it often gives parents a false sense of security that their kids would be safe playing in the street.

* Olson complimented the city crew on their maintenance of the parks this summer. He also noted that, in light of Tonasket’s decade-long (and thus far futile) effort to get Whitcomb Avenue ground down and repaved (instead of just sealed over), that Omak and Okanogan had their main streets rebuilt this summer. (Those cities have far more local control over their own main streets, while Tonasket’s, being US-97, is a state-level issue.)

* Council member Lois Rice said she felt that “kids were taking over the town at night,” particularly in the area around The Junction. Chief Burks said that unless he receives complaints about their behavior, that the police couldn’t ask them to leave private property.

“We do make contact with them,” Burks said. “But unless they’re breaking the law, what are we going to do with them? We do have the (closed) businesses … on record, getting people off their property if they’re doing something wrong.

“I enjoy it when they’re there because then I know where they’re at. It’s when I can’t see them that I’m more concerned… (Curfews) have been challenged, and it’s been declared unconstitutional… You don’t have the right, unless they’re breaking the law or doing something suspicious, that they have to go home.”

Business as usual

Agenda items approved by the council included:

* the use of liquor permit by the Community Cultural Center of Tonasket for the Tonasket Summer Festival at History Park, Aug. 22-23;

* payment of $2,542 for the purchas of new radar units;

* approval of a contract for D&D Auction Sales to conduct the city’s surplus auction on Aug. 13;

* and approval of Sharon Cox to take Stacey Kester’s position on the library board (after Kester resigned her position).

The City Council next meets on Tuesday, Aug. 26, at 7:00 p.m.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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