By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The Keizer City Council unanimously approved moving forward with a $4-per-month fee to create dedicated funding for new police officers at a special session Monday, June 12.
The vote does not enact the fee – an ordinance will come back to the council for final approval at a future meeting – but there didn’t appear to be many roadblocks standing in its way during the meeting.
Public testimony offered by about a dozen residents resembled a lovefest for Keizer cops with only a limited amount of concern voiced for any aspect of the fee (see related story).
The $4 fee would be charged to each commercial and residential utility customer in Keizer, but there was no mention of how the fee would be collected during the meeting. If the fee proceeds at that amount, the city would collect about $630,000.
The money will be used to hire five additional officers in a variety of specific roles. Two officers would be added to the night patrol shifts, and one officer each would be added to the Community Response Unit, the detective unit and the traffic unit.
A lack of resources has affected the department in a variety of ways. In recent months, a lack of officers on the night patrol has resulted in the delay of some responses and arrests. Property crimes have also taken a back burner to more pressing persons crimes.
“Too often, only with property crimes, investigations grow stale because of lack of resources,” said KPD Police Chief John Teague.
The proposed fee is slightly more than what Teague requested – $3.66 per month – but the additional funds could be put toward start-up costs like purchasing additional uniforms and patrol cars or even expanding outreach programs like KPD’s annual BLAST Camp, which filled up in just two days last month.
KPD currently has 37 officers, four fewer than it did a decade ago, and the population has only grown since that time.
The most cost-effective way to collect the fee would be to add it as a line item to existing utility bills. That method has taken fire when it came to establishing a fee for parks, but it wasn’t even broached during the meeting Monday.
Resident Rhonda Rich told the council it would be “wise” to put the fee before voters in the form of a ballot measure, but the city would have to wait until May 2018 to do so without additional cost.
That didn’t sit well with Mayor Cathy Clark.
“I appreciate the concerns about finances and the ability (for households) to absorb the increase in cost. I also appreciate the voice of an election. The reason, at this point, I feel we need to move forward with the audience is timing. For me, this has waited too long,” Clark said.
Without addressing the specifics of a vote, a timeframe for the fee to begin being collected, or the methodology by which it will be collected, all the other counselors chimed in with support.
The ordinance the council directed city staff to draft will include opportunities to raise the fee for inflation-related reasons.
Keizer cops get glowing reviews, strong fee support
If there was any question regarding support for a fee to fund additional Keizer police officers, all one had to do was take a drive down River Road North Monday, June 12.
Nearly every business with an available reader board had some sort of message notifying residents of a city council meeting to talk about a proposed fee to hire additional officers (see related story) .
That support was echoed by attendees at the actual meeting who lavished praise upon the Keizer Police Department and its officers in addition to supporting a $4-per-month fee.
“This past week, the first inkling I had about this meeting was all the reader boards. I felt compelled to tell you I wholeheartedly support this,” said resident Jeannie White, a Keizer resident for 27 years.
Former Keizer Police chief Marc Adams provided something of a history lesson.
“In 2008, we had 41 officers and Chief (John) Teague left for a position in Dallas and that was frozen. Then the positions of the next three officers who left were frozen. Failing to adequately fund police puts citizens and police officers at higher risk,” Adams said.
Adams’ point about officer safety was picked up by Garry Whalen, a former city councilor and longtime volunteer on city committees.
“They need to feel safe and secure to perform their sometime dangerous duties,” Whalen said.
Whalen also suggested a 90-day lead time between the approval of the fee and the beginning of collection so that residents can adjust their budgets accordingly, especially given that landlords will likely pass along the costs to tenants.
Ken Gierloff spoke as president of the Southeast Keizer Neighborhood Association and said the group supports both a police and parks fee, but police should take precedence.
“Chief Teague has done a wonderful job of stretching resources, but I think we’ve reached the tensile strength of that line,” Gierloff said.
Echoes of Gierloff’s testimony could be found in that of Mark Caillier, a former city councilor and veteran of the Salem Police Department.
“I have never seen an agency do more with less and we are approaching the point of doing less with less,” Caillier said.
After resident Rhonda Rich advocated for putting the fee on the ballot and letting voters decide, another resident, Matt Lawyer, put the ball back in the court of the council.
“You are the elected body and you have the ability to make these choices. I respect the need to have that voice but it’s why you all are here,” Lawyer said.
The city council has the ability to impose a fee without a vote.
After declining to speak on the issue earlier in the meeting, Rep. Bill Post opted to chime in as public testimony wrapped up, but said he was speaking solely in his capacity as a resident of Keizer.
“I want to acknowledge what Chief Teague said earlier, that there is nothing more noble a cop can do than prevent crime. For that alone, I am in favor of this. Nobody on this earth is more anti-tax than Bill Post, but I support this,” he said.