The Thurston County sheriff's office may get another two years of state help – valued at potentially $1 million – in investigating vehicle crashes on rural public roadways.
The help still faces a long legislative path and the Senate hasn't added the language to it version of the transportation budget. But Democratic Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater slipped language into the House transportation budget (aka House Bill 1175) this week to extend the investigative role of the Washington State Patrol another two years.
HB 1175 may be approved on the House floor as soon as Friday [March 25], according to Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia.
An amended Senate transportation budget bill (aka SB 5716) moved out of committee this afternoon without the updated language about the State Patrol. But it does make reference to the patrol continuing that work through June 30 this year.
Reykdal's proviso – modeled on those of his predecessor, Democrat Brendan Williams of Olympia – ensures that the patrol goes on investigating the accidents until June 2013. Thurston County is the last of 39 that hasn’t had to take over those duties, and Williams was able in past years to win extensions based on the financial hit coming during a tough time for counties.
Former Thurston sheriff Dan Kimball, a Democrat, once said previous moves could save the agency $1 million a year. That was based on an assumption Kimball needed at two investigators, 10 other deputies and equipment.
First-year Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza said today that he is using the same numbers that Kimball did, based on a study that is now about four years old.
Without the additional State Patrol help, Snaza said residents will have to accept that response times to other calls for help might have to wait longer for a deputy to respond. Already, Snaza said, he's hearing from his Democratic county commissioners that he might have to cut his budget mid-year.
"The biggest concern I have is, when a deputy is on a collision scene, then a call comes out – 'domestic in progress, physical domestic' – that the deputy cannot clear that accident scene," Snaza explained. "I don't know how far out that next deputy is to respond to that domestic."
Even so, Snaza said he has begun transitioning his staff to taking over more responsibility for the roughly 1,000 collisions a year that are reported on county roadways. He said he's had more deputies responding to collisions and he's sent deputies to training sessions that will prepare them for handling the accident scene investigations.
Snaza, elected last year as an Independent, didn't ask for the help but said it was "cool" that Reykdal was thinking of him. He predicted that without the help his staff would have to handle three to four accidents a day on average after July 1.
But the state won't turn its back on the county, according to Snaza. "What the State Patrol has told me, if it comes to where we are the primary responders that they would still assist us in major critical incidents and fatalities," he said.
A separate Senate transportation budget bill (aka SB 5716) moved out of committee this afternoon without the updated language about WSP investigating Thurston County accidents. It does have a reference to the patrol continuing that work through June 30.