Now that Measure 24-324 has failed at the polls it is time for all parties concerned to take stock of where they are and where they go from here.
Measure 24-324 would have added a $4.86 per month on every Keizer dwelling. and building. The city of Keizer would have received 64 percent of the $800,000 plus the fee would have raised annually. The other 36 percent would have been received by the two fire districts that cover the city.
Supporters of the measure argued that the money was needed due to the hole the city’s 9-1-1 obligation blows in the city’s budget each year. The 9-1-1 bill requires the city to use more than $260,00 out of the general fund. Opponents say that the proposed fee would be levied at the worst possible time, with the economy still stalled.
The supporters of the measure might have been successful if they did not cloak their campaign in a “save 911” message. The measure was never about the viability of the communications system. The measure was about replacing the general fund monies that were paying for 9-1-1.
The budgetary problem remains the same with the defeat of Measure 24-324. The city’s budget, which must be balanced, will still take a hit. City residents pay a 9-1-1 tax on their phones, both land lines and cellphones. The tax goes to the state of Oregon which apportions it back to the cities. The rise of prepaid phone cards (which are not subject to 9-1-1 taxes) and the blockage of charging cellphone accounts with additional fees are the main reasons the city’s obligations are out of whack.
For the current budget year Keizer collects about $109,000 for 9-1-1, but the city’s bill is more than $373,000. That means the city must use more than $260,000 out of the general fund to pay its obligation for 9-1-1. That’s money that could be paying for some of the police officer positions that have gone unfilled.
But the people have spoken. Those who voted no did so far several reasons: they are opposed to any new taxes or fees in the current economic climate and they don’t see a need for more cops on the street. Some have written that the city should live within its means just like citizens do.
By law the city cannot run a budget deficit, unlike private households that can live on credit as long as it is available.
Those who cite the lack of a crime wave in Keizer for voting against Measure 24-324 don’t necessarily see the crime prevention work of the police. The police have to be vigilant about drug rings in our city. Police Chief Marc Adams has repeatedly stressed that Keizer is not an island; it is part of a metropolitan area of more than 300,000 people and it sits on Interstate 5, the main arterial between California and Canada.
Is it the responsibility of Keizer Police to investigate and break up drug rings? Absolutely. Rival drug gangs seeking supremacy can erupt into violence that puts the public at risk. Some individual drug users may resort to theft to support their habit. With thousands of pounds of drugs being shipped along I-5 each year Keizer is a way station. And we all want to make that as difficult for cartels as possible. The public doesn’t see the police raids on drug houses and there is little publicity about them, but they are effective.
The Keizer Police Department has as many officers on duty today as it did back in 1997. That seems to suit many citizens just fine. The result of the election means that money from the general fund will pay for 9-1-1 instead of police officers. That means that the police will not be able to respond to every call; violent crimes or life threatenng situations will have to take precedence over non-emergency calls such as reports of graffiti or a theft or even shoplifting.
In these tough budgetary times we have to make choices. Keizer will have fewer police officers than is optimal for a while. But we will still have an inbalance in our 9-1-1 revenues and expenditures. That is an unsustainable situation.
This issue will rise again and there will be opportunities to make it more palatable for voters. A new fee on cellphones has been described as DOA by political insiders. Some want to see 9-1-1 fees attached to prepaid phone cards. There could be another effort to use the Keizer water and sewer bill as a vehicle to levy a public safety communications fee. But until the citizens are prepared to spend money on more cops all these options are not likely to happen anytime in the near future.