WALLA WALLA -- A proposal for a new division of sheriff's deputies dedicated to enforcing traffic laws was greeted with cautious optimism Monday, along with a number of questions.
The presentation by Deputy Gerrod Martin to Walla Walla County commissioners outlined how the idea of a four-member traffic bureau would work. But Sheriff John Turner, who accompanied Martin, said the proposal is a long-term goal at present and not something his office hopes to have in place immediately.
Commissioners Perry Dozier, Gregg Loney and Greg Tompkins said they supported the idea in general, but all needed more information about details and in particular about how the proposal would be funded.
"I'm glad you're looking at a stair-step approach," Loney said. "But we need to look at our fiduciary responsibility. We'll need more information."
Under the proposal, the four-member unit would work full-time on traffic enforcement, but also be available to aid regular patrol deputies. The bureau's annual budget would be $325,000 per year, plus "seed money" to cover start-up costs which would include equipment and new cars.
But Martin and Turner said the unit would be self-supporting through fines from citations issued by the deputies. "Our goal is to accomplish this with zero impact to the county budget," Turner said. He also said the unit would not be formed all at once, but by adding one or more deputies at a time over a number of years.
Martin said that at present, the Sheriff's Office has only one deputy, himself, who is dedicated full-time to traffic duties and those efforts are ancillary to his patrol duties. Traffic enforcement is also aided by two motorcycle deputies, but they are only available on a seasonal basis.
Traffic complaints are one of the most numerous calls the Sheriff's Office receives, Martin said. In 2010 the emergency dispatch office alone fielded 600 calls and that number did not include complaints to county commissioners, the county road department and to other agencies.
Martin identified three ways to fund the new bureau, either by transferring funds from the Public Works Department to the Sheriff's Office, putting the bureau entirely under the Public Works Department or by diverting funds from the County Road Administrative Board.
But county Public Works Director Randy Glaeser said he wanted to make it clear that he was in no way in favor of diverting any county road dollars from their intended purpose of maintaining and improving county roads.
He also said he was not certain if money from the county road fund could be loaned to another agency. The state Auditor's Office has not provided a clear answer, he said, and he has asked Jesse Nolte, deputy prosecuting attorney, to research the issue.
"Even if this is the greatest idea in the world, we have to be sure it can be done legally and correctly," Glaeser said.
Andy Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8318.