Washington City has been told by the Washington County Sheriff's Department that the cost of police protection is about to go up 43 percent.

The increase was revealed to city officials by County Commissioner Gayle Aldred on Thursday - five days before the city's proposed budget was to be presented to the council."We're stretched tight," said City Manager Ralph McClure. "Trying to pick this up would mean a substantial increase in taxes."

The alternative would be a sizable reduction in services to city residents.

The proposed four-year contract would raise the annual cost of police protection from $95,000 to $166,782, which Aldred said was needed to cover cost-of-living increases and operating expenses.

"We don't feel we're getting our money's worth as it is," complained Washington City Mayor Larry Jolley. "For us to come up with another $71,000 at this point would be almost impossible."

The increase reflects the cost of three deputies providing full-time police coverage. City officials said the agreement with the sheriff's department was only for 20 hour per week coverage, which many claim the department has failed to provide.

"We've had people call for a deputy and been told no one was patrolling in the city during a time when someone should have been here," Jolley said. "We`re not very happy with the police work being done."

Aldred suggested the council put together a proposal to absorb the increase over a period of time, which would lessen the initial impact of a major tax hike and probably reduce the level of public opposition.

The city will present its proposal to the county at the regular commission meeting on Monday.