Public safety tax would pay for 2 officers
MONROE - Voters are being asked to approve a public safety tax on the Aug. 6 ballot that will fund two new police officers.
If the measure gets the simple majority it needs to pass, the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax will supplement a shrinking Police Department budget that is $1 million short of what it was before the recession.
Ballots were mailed out last week and must be postmarked by Aug. 6.
Over the last five years, through attrition or layoffs, six commissioned officer positions have gone unfunded, department spokeswoman Debbie Willis said. There would be enough revenue collected in the first year of the sales tax levy to hire back two officers.
“Of course we’d want all of them back, but we have some limitations on what you can do with this one-tenth of a percent,” Willis said. “That’s all we can get.”
The cost of hiring a new officer is about $100,000. That includes salary, training, benefits and uniforms.
The levy is expected to bring in about $263,000 a year, Willis said. The impact on the individual is small, she said: For every $10 spent, one penny would go toward the public safety tax.
The No. 1 priority for revenue collected through the public safety tax is to hire more commissioned officers. Any money left over will go first toward helping the department fund larger criminal investigations, Willis said, which can be expensive.
The department is also continually playing “catch-up” with maintaining its aging patrol cars. The vehicles have a lot of miles and cost the department a chunk of change in repairs. But a new car costs the department about $37,000. That just isn’t the No. 1 priority right now, Willis said.
Before tough economic times forced the department to shrink right along with its budget, the city was patrolled using a “three-beat” system. When the department had to cut back on personnel, the three-beat system went down to two. If more officers can be hired back, Willis said the hope is to go back to using the more focalized method of patrols.
A beat is an area of town that has one assigned officer patrolling it at all times. Currently, with two beats, the city is divided north and south by U.S. 2 and the railroad tracks. This makes response times less efficient and may leave an officer stuck on the wrong side of a passing train.
“It’s important in our situation,” Willis said. “Having an extra officer and another beat on the street will really increase our ability to respond to multiple incidents. They do happen. Everybody doesn’t just take their turn.”
The three-beat system separates the city as follows: one beat covers the Fryelands, area north of U.S. 2 and the surrounding residential areas; another covers downtown and its surrounding residential area; the third covers the North Kelsey area including Fred Meyer, Lowe’s and residential areas north of U.S. 2.
Willis said the community seems to be in support of the levy.
“It’s kind of hearsay, but I feel that people have reached out to us and we are getting support,” Willis said.
Volunteers for the Police Department have been occupying four major intersections in town, waving signs to garner support for the levy.
“We’re out sign-waving and we’re getting a lot of positive nods, waves and honks,” Willis said. “Because there’s not a lot on the ballot, we want to make sure that people are aware there is an actual election coming up on Aug. 6 and it’s important that people vote.”
The department tried unsuccessfully to pass the levy two years ago. The vote was pretty close, Willis said, but it ultimately failed.
“There wasn’t a lot of time between the time we made the decision (to run the proposal) and the election, there wasn’t enough time to educate the public,” Willis said.
If the levy doesn’t pass this time around, the department hasn’t yet decided if it will try to push the levy a third time.
“We’re going to keep doing the best we can with the money we have,” Willis said.
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