Wapato City Hall

Wapato City Hall.

The city of Wapato recently received a $46,000 financial break from its insurance carrier and prosecutors, welcome news after its insurance costs went up.

The past year has been a rough one for the city financially. A consultant found the city’s financial records were in “complete disarray” in May, and the city’s former mayor declared a financial crisis in August. The Wapato City Council instituted hiring and spending freezes.

The city also was reeling from eight findings of wrongdoing reported by the state auditor in May and almost a dozen lawsuits filed against the city by residents and former or current employees. The accumulated claims and issues caused Wapato’s risk management company to terminate the city’s insurance as of Jan. 1.

The city was able to find and approve a new insurance carrier, so that no gap in coverage resulted. But the new policy with Cities Insurance Association of Washington, or CIAW, came with a steep $100,000 liability deductible for any allegations of wrongful acts by city leadership or the City Council and a clause to terminate coverage with only 10 days written notice. The cost was up from a $10,000 deductible in the city’s previous insurance policy.

But Wapato city staff shared good news at Tuesday’s council meeting. City Clerk-Treasurer Kimberly Grimm said CIAW had reduced the city’s payments by $40,000. The city now will pay $311,000 to CIAW and $33,000 to PayneWest, the city’s new broker, Grimm said.

An April 2019 probation letter from the city’s old carrier said its annual assessment from the Association of Washington Cities’ Risk Management Service Agency was $247,054.

In addition, Mayor Keith Workman said the city’s prosecutors offered to reduce their annual bill by $6,000, given the much higher new insurance premiums.

“We owe them a debt of gratitude for that,” Workman said.

Wapato contracted with the Yakima County Prosecutor’s office in summer 2019 after a revolving door of city prosecutors left gaps during criminal court hearings. Deputy Prosecutors Jeremy Burke and Brandon Crawford received approval from county Prosecutor Joseph Brusic to use their vacation time, weekends and evenings to work for Wapato in addition to their full-time jobs.

“Addressing crime is a countywide goal that requires each government entity to succeed,” Burke said Thursday. “Mr. Crawford and I took this contract in order to help the city of Wapato and its residents. We wanted to continue to help by reducing the cost when we saw that the city had a need.”

The contract’s conditions are the same, with no strings attached to the offer, Burke said in an email he sent to Workman.

“We do not believe working for a city should be only about money,” Burke wrote. “We believe this money, although not the cost of your new insurance premiums, can be better served elsewhere.”

Phil Riche, senior vice president with Clear Risk Solutions, said CIAW is excited to assist Wapato with its insurance and risk management needs.

“We look forward to a long and cooperative partnership,” Riche said. “We believe the city of Wapato is on the path to improved stability.”

Wapato city staff said at Tuesday’s meeting they are also looking into other cost-cutting measures. Grimm announced the city will be contracting with a new IT company whose services are almost half of the city’s costs with its former provider.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.