Tenino mulls getting rid of police force to balance budget

TENINO, Wash. -- The city of Tenino is considering doing away with its police force in order to fix a huge budget crisis.

Tenino is a city with empty storefronts and an empty municipal checkbook. Its budget is $150,000 in the hole.

"If we don't act now with our present budget crisis, Tenino will fail," said Mayor Eric Strawn. "If we act as business as usual ... businesses will leave, the city will fail. It's just a matter of time."

So the mayor is proposing strong medicine. Over half the budget goes to police, so the mayor says the answer turning police over to the county or cutting it in half, from six to three.

"I am concerned about the city, because I am police chief of the city of Tenino. I believe crime will go up," said Tenino Police Chief John Hutchings.

Budget woes are the latest crisis to hit the Thurston County city. The city is already dealing with a recall against two councilmen, and the mayor's alleged dalliance inside a marked car.

"We need our guys here, whether it is one of two. We're not Mayberry; we are Tenino. And we need our officers just as much," said Tenino resident Jim Stevenson.

"I grew up in a small town. And we had one police officer, and he rode a bicycle," said Wayne Bray.

Residents will joke about their city's foibles, but at the end of the day, they want local police. So do the police chief and the mayor.

"Dissolving the police department -- would that save the city? If it does, that's only temporary, before you take a leg off or another arm off," said Hutchings.

"If Chief Hutchings can cut the budget enough to save our police department, I am in favor of that," said the mayor.

Right now, only the police department is on the line. But if the economy doesn't improve soon, the entire city could be on the line.

The mayor says unless Bill Gates or Warren Buffet invests in Tenino, it will be very hard to find that much money.