Help on the way: TPD to get new patrol car

TONASKET – Tonasket Police Chief Rob Burks is willing to sacrifice a bit of the future in order to satisfy a dire need in the here and now.

With the Tonasket Police in danger of being paralyzed by the failure of its aging fleet of vehicles, Burks gave his blessing to the Tonasket City Council’s plan to allow the use of funds originally intended for the construction of a new police building to purchase up to $10,000 worth of vehicle.

Whether that means one or two cars will be determined by what Burks can find in the used police vehicle market.

To avoid spending money it didn’t have, the council approved using money from the Police Cumulative Fund, which accumulates money periodically and currently holds more than $40,000 resulting from the sale of the old fire hall property to the Tonasket EMS District several years ago.

The money was intended to go toward the construction of a new “cop shop,” but technically could be used for any council-approved capital expenditure. The council unanimously approved the use of those funds after a lengthy discussion.

Council member Jean Ramsey wanted to be sure that Burks was OK with using some of that money for a vehicle.

“So you appreciate that I appreciate this,” she said, “You’re OK spending money out of your dream cop shop for what you need now?”

“To be honest,” Burks said, “I’ll be long retired before we can build anything. But we need a police car now.”

Burks has spent that last several months trying to find a way to start rebuilding the department’s fleet. Previous attempts to buy used vehicles on the cheap backfired.

“In the past I’ve gotten cars for free,” Burks said. “My ‘free car’ cost us $4,000 (in maintenance and repairs) its first year. Jim’s free police car cost us a few thousand a year. The car that used to be Janet’s and then and Audra’s, it’s at the point where shouldn’t be putting more money in it. It’s got a transmission problem and an air conditioning problem, leaking freon or something. You get what you pay for.

“I think three times in six to seven years I’ve asked for money for cars,” he added. “Twice I got it, once it was $1,200, another time it was $7,500. Third time I asked for $8,000 and the council at the time said no. So I’ve been getting what I can. Instead of doing a rotation like I should have, we run them til they cost us too much.”

Council member Dennis Brown asked why Burks was coming to the council now, rather than including a vehicle purchase in his budget.

“I have the past couple of years,” Burks started, before Mayor Patrick Plumb interrupted.

“In his defense, he presented that at last year’s budget and it was stricken (by the council),” he said. “We voted on that budget here. Now we’re to where we aren’t sure we can keep all the cops in a car.”

Ramsey, a longtime council member, said that the decision to purchase the old vehicles cheaply had been done with the best of intentions.

“Those were supposed to be a good deal,” she said. “We thought we were doing the right thing. That can’t be argued. It wasn’t cheapness per se. We thought we were getting good hand me downs.”

“We’ve talked about this, we’ve had a meeting about this,” said council member Claire Jeffko. “The money is there. My God, we need a police car.”

Burks said that, with the help of EMS director Michael Greene, he had researched a number of auction sites and estimated that $7,500-$10,000 could get a used car in good shape that was four to five years old with 55,000-65,000 miles on it.

“I’m not buying an 80-90,000 (mile) car,” he said. “One of the places we’ve been looking at will let you look at the car and make an offer before it goes to auction. So you may get cheaper than these prices here, even. Greene thinks he can talk them down. He should be a car dealer; he knows how to get good cars at good prices.”

Burks added that most cars come with most police-specific equipment installed other than radios, which reserve officer Justin Wilson is capable of installing.

“The $10,000 is a hard limit,” Plumb clarified. “That has to include taxes, equipment and licensing.”

Ramsey made the motion, with Jeffko providing the second.

Also discussed during the meeting were issues with flooding resulting from a torrential thunderstorm on Sept. 6; City Planner Kurt Danison reported on multiple issues; the city and chamber negotiating with Burlington Northern after being informed that their lease of the RV park would be signficantly increased; discussion of noise / nuisance ordinances; and the appointment of Jerry Anderson to the Civil Service Board.

The council next meets on Tuesday, Sept. 24.