Tribal Government & News

Willamina opens discussions with Tribe for law enforcement contract

11.30.2023 Sherron Lumley Tribal Police


By Sherron Lumley

Smoke Signals staff writer

The Willamina City Council voted unanimously to begin discussions with the Grand Ronde Tribal Police Department regarding the city’s law enforcement contract in a public meeting Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Currently, through a mutual aid agreement, Tribal Police and Yamhill County coordinate coverage for the city of Willamina, although this is not a monetary agreement.

The Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office, which has provided law enforcement under contract to Willamina for 30 years, and city councilors expressed appreciation and admiration for the Grand Ronde Tribal Police Department.

“The Sheriff’s Department and Tribal Police just blend and it has been a relief,” Patrol Capt. Sam Elliot said. “We have been so completely impressed. They do a tremendous job.”

The Tribal Police Department, with approval from Tribal Council, approached Willamina city staff about the law enforcement contract, which runs annually from July 1 to June 30.

“We do work well together,” Tribal Police Chief Jake McKnight said. “At this point, we are just going to have some talks.”

Oregon law allow cities to contract with county sheriffs and governing bodies for police services to incorporated cities.

In fiscal year 2023-24, Willamina Mayor Ila Skyberg and outgoing Yamhill County Sheriff Tim Svenson signed the annual $358,553 agreement for police services, paid in monthly installments of $29,879. This covers personnel expenses, such as salaries, health and life insurance for two deputies, overtime, vehicle costs and uniforms. This is an increase from $299,655 in 2021 and $338,454 in 2022. 

Willamina City Manager and Budget Officer Bridget Meneley addressed an underlying issue in her written summary: “Police departments, nationwide, have experienced a staffing shortage. Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office is included in that shortage and is not able to maintain an adequate minimum staffing level and effectively conduct policing for the entire county.”

Grand Ronde could provide three full-time officers, a supervisor and adequate minimum staffing levels within Willamina’s current law enforcement budget, McKnight said. There also would be an increase in community engagement opportunities working collaboratively with Willamina city staff.

“We are asking for a decision in the next couple of months, by mid-January or so, to have time to hire on and train,” McKnight said.

Willamina pays for the law enforcement contract through a combination of general fund monies and a public safety fee. The city’s total budget for fiscal year 2023-24 is $10,039,724.

In addition to infrastructure improvements, Willamina anticipates economic development, planning and land use development, increasing the number of homes and franchise fees, according to the fiscal year 2023-24 budget message.

As Willamina prepares for growth, its leaders “aim to provide the most complete service to our community,” which includes adequate law enforcement.

The Tribe has greatly expanded the emergency services it provides to the West Valley area since building a fire station in Grand Ronde in 2010.

In 2020, the Tribe and the West Valley Fire District worked out a transition plan for the Tribe to assume control and operations in Grand Ronde. In 2022, Tribal Council approved a five-year agreement to operate the Willamina Fire Station from Jan. 1, 2023, through Dec. 31, 2027.