Parks and cops? Parks or cops? One little word can make a huge difference in the near future of Keizer. Both are paid for from the city’s general fund budget. Both are important to the livability of the city.  But only one—parks—is the subject of a survey that will, in part, ask homeowners if (and how much) of a new fee they would support.

The members of the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advsiory Board have worked hard over the past year to fashion a survey about parks that is just now being sent to Keizer homeowners.

The comprehensive survery is included with Keizer water bills; half of homeowners are receiving the survey this month; the other half will receive it in February. The survey dives deep with questions about how people use city parks and the future of them. The survey also asks respondents if they would support a new park fee added to their bi-monthly water bills; there are five options, ranging from zero to $8 per  month.

An extra $8 a month is a small price to pay to vastly improve Keizer’s parks. Some households claim that their budgets cannot handle the addition of another nickle let alone eight dollars. Even at half that rate—$4 a month—Keizer parks would receive the maintenance desperately  needed. However, any neew fee could create a burder for some households.

The results from the parks survey will be tabulated, processed and formed into a report for the Parks Board which will then make a recommendation to the city council whether or not to add a fee to water bills and how much, if any.

This is all good for Keizer parks. But what about cops? Presumably, if asked to choose between money for cops or money for parks, most would opt for public safety. City leaders would rather it not come down to a choice between the two. Again, both are important aspects of a livable city. But what if a choice has to be made?

Citizens want their government to live within its means. Health care and PERS take an ever-larger bite out of municipal budgets—two expenditures that must be fully funded. Most of  the property tax revenues that will start to come into the city’s coffers late this year will mostly be eaten up by increased PERS obligations. It is hard to live within your means when your costs keep rising by double digits each year.

Unless the city leaders make some tough, undesirable choices—such as shedding jobs, or reducing salaries—Keizer’s budget writers will have to figure out how to allocate limited funds to parks and the police department. The police department  accounts for  about 75 percent of the general fund. Last year approximately $336,000 was earmarked for Keizer’s parks—all 19 of them.

The mayor and the councilors make city policy in the name of their constituents. If there was a time to make their voices heard, this is the time for Keizer residents to express their opinions; the results of the survey will go a long way to chart the future of our parks.

Should Keizer citizens wonder if the effort to fund parks should not also be expended on the police department? According to standards Keizer should have four to six more officers for the population, currently there are 36 officers.

Keizer operates under the contraints of 1990’s Measure 5, which capped Keizer’s property tax at $2.09 per $1,000 valuation (the lowest of any full-service city in the state). When expenditures—such as PERS and insurance—increase exceed revenues, something has to give. In its early days Keizer relied on voter-approved levies for revenue; that is not attractive these days. Without the benefit of  an increased tax rate the only option is fees, thus the idea to add a parks fee to the water bill.

Funding a police department the same way is not optimal. Our hearts tell us we need more officers—do our heads follow? Running a city or any of its departments is a multi-layered job. Chief of Police John Teague must run his department’s many parts with what he has—regardless if some people think we have enough staffing or not.  Public Works Director Bill Lawyer and the head of the parks department must use spit and bandages to maintain the parks we have.

Keizer’s budget is more than a matter of cops and parks. This year honest and deep disucssions need to be held about what is needed versus what we want. We have elected a mayor and six city councilors to address these hard questions. The public can offer its opinions all it can but in the end it is the policy makers of the city who will have to devise a plan, then sell it to the public.

It’s called leadership.