Whittier, Girdwood Sign Police Contract
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Whittier police began patrolling Girdwood on Oct. 22 after a three-month interim contract was signed.
An agreement was reached on Oct. 19 after a meeting between Anchorage, Whittier and Girdwood officials. Negotiations continue on a three-year policing contract.
Whittier will provide two police officers per day to work a shift in Girdwood and provide minimum of three daily patrols in the Girdwood Valley Service Area. Officers will be available 24 hours a day, but may respond from Whittier if needed.
Girdwood Valley 911 phone traffic will now connected with Whittier’s department.
The interim contract’s cost is $2,000 per day, which is $307 above the long-term rate under negotiation. With Public Safety Director Chief David Schofield and City Manager Mark Lynch on scheduled vacations, reasoning the contract rate increase remained elusive. The information absence was a source of frustration at Girdwood’s Public Safety Advisory Committee’s regular meeting, the PSAC’s special meeting four days later and the Oct. GBOS meeting three after the latter.
During the public comment period of Oct. 18 Whittier’s City Council meeting, council members and Lynch responded to Gazette questioning of difference in contracts’ per day costs.
“The short answer is risk and liability to the community of Whittier,” said Lynch. “We’re doing this as a favor for our neighbor, but we’re not doing it to lose money, and there is more cost to a short-term contract. If you look back at the Forest Fair contract, the cost per day was much higher because it was only a three-day contract. The shorter the contract, the more risk and the higher cost. It’s very simple.”
In response, the Gazette asked Council to address the perception by some Girdwood residents that the higher per day rate as ‘gouging’ since the increase appeared suddenly, and only after a round of contract edits. More detailed reasons for the price difference were then offered.
“I would say that’s incorrect,” Lynch said. “If they don’t want the interim contract, they’re welcome to not enter into it. That’s the easy answer. If they think that we’re somehow overcharging them, they can go get a price from the city of Anchorage. I think they got a price from them once before and it was about five times as much as we’re offering to do the work for. I don’t know how they can possibly conceive that the lowest cost opportunity they have is somehow gouging them.”
Council member Peter Denmark said, “This has come to me a couple times. I’ve come to explaining it as, rather than a function of risk, but simply as an economy of scale. That was easiest for me to wrap my head around.”
“It’s just like buying in bulk,” Lynch said. “When you buy in bulk, there’s a better economy of scale. There’s less risk of what your product margin is.”
Mayor Blair said the cost difference could have been avoided had a long-term contract been signed earlier.
“Had the discussion with the long-term contract progressed along the speed that both sides had hoped,” Blair said, “we would have been more than happy to sign a three-year contract. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen. We’re just doing this to accommodate Girdwood in terms of they would like to have coverage prior to when we can come to a conclusion with the three-year contract.”
“It’s not an effort to enhance our pocketbook,” Blair said. “It’s not what we started out with, and it’s not what we’re going to end with. We’re trying to provide a general solution that was asked for.”
Vice Mayor Dave Pinquoch weighed in on the topic as well.
“I haven’t been involved with the interim contract at all,” Pinquoch said, “but as a business owner looking at it from a business sense, it makes sense to me for it to be more expensive. For example, if we had a three-year contract, and you ask for a three-month extension on the end of it, they would probably be the same price.”
“When you enter into a contract with an unknown on the end,” Pinquoch said, “we don’t know in three months that we’re going to have a three-year contract. To me you would enter that contract not expecting that next three years, even though it probably is going to happen. Business sense tells you to anticipate that, so you do it separately.
“Who knows what could get thrown into the way? To me that’s why the price would be different. If you saw an extension on the end, it would probably be the same, but not on the front. I think it’s appropriate and I don’t think there is any intentional price gouging,” Pinquoch said.
Girdwood Supervisor Tommy O’Malley also spoke during the public comment period to encourage Whittier to move the contract process forward and reach an agreement.
“I’m known as a tax and spend liberal,” O’Malley said, “so I don’t care how much police cost. When I first heard that the troopers were abandoning their post for complicated reasons, my goal was to find police coverage for the vulnerable people in our community. There’s domestic violence happening. Just last week, there was child sexual abuse along with property crimes, drunk driving and all the other pedestrian crimes. Whatever you guys charge is our only option. That’s not an invitation to [long pause].”
Denmark finished O’Malley’s sentence by saying “gouge.”
O’Malley then encouraged Council to move forward with the contracts for the benefit of both communities.
“I want to urge you,” O’Malley said, “if you have any misgivings about a contract, I hope that you can see past that and I hope we can form a better relationship. I haven’t been here to talk to you before. I urge you guys to seek an agreement to help the people in Girdwood out. I believe there are benefits to Whittier.
“You’ll be able to retain officers and put more effort into training them,” O’Malley said. “I know that Chief Schofield sees this as a professional challenge and opportunity. He’s not making any more money off of it. The people in Girdwood are eager to have that kind of police protection. I see it as an opportunity to have police officers who will match and support our community sensibilities.”