Armed security guards eventually will replace Medford Police Department officers at the Medford airport because the Transportation Security Administration has cut funding for the program.
"We're too expensive," Medford police chief Tim George told the City Council Thursday.
Under the current contract, Medford police charge the airport $44 an hour to have one policeman on duty for about 20 hours each day. For the next six months, until the private security company takes over, the rate will be bumped up to $46 an hour to cover increased overhead.
The airport received $24 an hour in compensation from TSA to help pay for part of the contract with Medford police, but that budget recently was dropped to $20 an hour.
Even though the Medford police won't have at least one officer at the airport nearly 20 hours a day, they still will be required to send units out for emergency calls at the airport, which is within the city limits of Medford.
"We will continue to respond immediately out there despite the contract," George said.
Councilman John Michaels said the airport still will receive the benefit of having officers nearby in case of emergencies, but won't be paying the cost of having an officer stationed at the airport.
"I feel like we're being taken advantage of," Michaels said.
George told Michaels that the police routinely answer calls at various county facilities in the city, including at the downtown library.
Michaels, who formerly worked at the airport, said he places a lot of confidence in Medford police to provide security.
"It felt really comforting to have MPD there," Michaels said.
As a result of the eventual loss of the contract, the police department will lose three full-time positions. However, the police department currently has vacancies for four officers, so no layoffs will be necessary.
Airport director Bern Case said the airport has been overspending by continuing with the Medford police contract. Providing airport security has become more of an unfunded mandate, he said.
With the further drop in funding from TSA, Case said, the airport could no longer absorb the cost of the more expensive police officers.
"That's a major hit," Case said.
By going with a private security company, the airport estimates it will save $200,000 annually.
The security guards will receive state licenses so they can carry firearms, Case said.
A private security company hasn't been selected yet, but Case said he hopes that whichever company Jackson County chooses will hire retired officers from the local area to be stationed at the airport.
The Medford Police Department has had a contract at the airport since 2006.
Case said the airport has had a good working relationship with the Medford police. "If money wasn't an issue, I would much rather have them," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email email@example.com.