Police force in Gold Hill dependent on insurance

GOLD HILL — City officials are gathering information for a Tuesday public meeting that could shed light on lingering issues related to police services and the city's insurance coverage.

The town hall session starts at 6:30 p.m. at Patrick Elementary School.

Issues that could be discussed include whether to keep the city's embattled police department and its controversial chief or contract with the county for police services, what would happen if the city were to become unincorporated and whether to implement a $15 surcharge to pay for police services.

Councilwoman Judi Holdeman, who will lead the meeting on behalf of the city, said she was awaiting detailed information from the city's insurance provider, City County Insurance Services (CCIS), as to whether the city could keep its police department and insurance coverage.

In recent months, the insurance company has advised the city that coverage would not be renewed if the police department remained open.

Four suits have been filed against the police department and the city's insurer raised incident deductibles from $1,000 to $10,000 in recent months, but city officials and citizens remain divided over whether to keep the department.

Some say it's a moot issue while others are holding out hope of working things out with the city's insurer.

Budget committee member Gus Wolf said Friday that that committee had been told that maintaining a police department, which it cannot afford without the surcharge, would ensure non-renewal of the city's insurance.

At best, he said, a sub-prime insurance provider would charge the city 50-75 percent more than its current premium of around $47,000 annually.

"Basically, CCIS is saying if you have your own police department, we're not going to even insure you," Wolf said.

"It doesn't even seem like there should be a question. We can't afford to fund the police department and pay the amount of premium that would go up."

Another issue for the town hall session is the need for a $15 surcharge. While the surcharge has not been approved yet, Police Chief Dean Muchow presented a budget in recent weeks that depends on some $88,200 in revenue from the not-yet-approved fee.

Approval of a 2007-08 budget hinges on a variety of factors, including whether the city will fund law enforcement locally or contract with the sheriff's department.

Budget committee member Christine Alford said committee members were told recently by City Recorder Mary Goddard that Mayor Dan Morris had written a letter to CCIS stating the city planned to disband its police department.

But Goddard said she had filled out a renewal application with CCIS and submitted applications for alternate providers.

Morris has repeatedly declined to comment on city insurance matters to the Mail Tribune. Wolf and Holdeman both confirmed Morris ordered city officials to wait 7 days to fulfill any media requests.

Alford said budget committee members reached a consensus recently that a city police department was "cost prohibitive" due to the potential insurance premium hike, though funding for the department remains on the city's proposed budget. Holdeman, on the other hand, said a consensus was not reached and that city officials, including the mayor, were gathering information to determine if the police department could be retained.

Representatives for CCIS did not return calls from the Mail Tribune seeking comment Thursday or Friday.

Holdeman said Tuesday's meeting would, at the very least, be useful in gauging citizen response to the police, insurance and surcharge issues.

"We're coming down to the wire where we have to have our budget completed and people need to know what's going on," she said.

Alford, a former council member and vocal critic of City Hall and Muchow, said the decisions to be made were obvious.

"With the new premium, we would have no money to even fund police — or the sheriff — so it's a moot point!" Alford said. "There would just be money to cover this premium, which we'd be paying only to keep a police department we can't afford to fund "¦ . At some point in time they're going to have to present the facts, all of them, on the same day. I just feel like there's still time to pull ourselves out of this mess. But we need to start paddling!"

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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