Sheriff's traffic bureau plan hits red light

At least for this year. County commissioners said they are open to revisiting the concept next year.

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WALLA WALLA -- A proposal to create a new traffic enforcement bureau is on hold for now.

Walla Walla County commissioners Tuesday revisited the idea with members of the Sheriff's Office. While commissioners said they remained open to the idea, they agreed the proposal will have to wait until they get more information, especially about finances.

Commissioners Perry Dozier, Gregg Loney and Greg Tompkins also made it clear they were not in favor of diverting money from the county road fund for the concept.

Speaking with Capt. Barry Blackman and Shanda Zessin, commander of the administrative services division, Loney said he wanted to re-open the discussion started in September when the idea was presented to commissioners.

Since then, "the board hasn't given the sheriff any direction or had further conversation on the topic," Loney said. "They're kinda hanging out there and citizens have made some inquiries."

Commissioners all said that since the 2012 budgets have been written and are close to approval, 2013 would be the earliest any proposal could be put into practice. They also agreed that before proceeding, they needed to see a business plan of how the bureau would work.

"If they want to bring it back next year with a budget that documents how it's going to be funded and paid for and what it costs, then I'll look at it," Tompkins said.

At the September presentation, Sheriff John Turner and Deputy Gerrod Martin said the bureau's annual budget would be $325,000, plus "seed money" to cover start-up costs. The bureau would be self-supporting through enforcement actions, they said.

But Loney said Tuesday he could not see how that would be possible.

"I've run some numbers and in looking at it, short of subsidizing (the bureau) ongoing from the county road (fund), I've not been shown any information which shows how this would be self-sustaining. After deducting what goes to the state and the court, "only $25 or $35 would be available from a $115 citation."

Loney cautioned that the numbers "were only his figures," but said that "still, given that, an officer would have to write 200-300 tickets (per month) to be self-sustaining in that fashion."

Zessin said she and the rest of the Sheriff's Office command staff appreciated that commissioners had revisited the issue. She said good programs "come from a vision" followed by gathering information and a collaborative process involving much discussion.

"That's not going to happen in one time, in one month with one presentation," she said.

She thanked the board for its willingness to continue looking at the concept and said that she and others have been assigned to work on a business plan to bring back to commissioners.

"Thank you for not closing the door and having the conversation," Zessin said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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