The Keizer City Council has passed new fees to support the police department and the city’s 19 parks. Each fee is $4 per month that is added to the water/sewer bills (the bi-monthly addition to invoices total will be $16).
The collection of the new fees will start in November. Instead of receiving a water bill, homeowners and business owners will receive a city services invoice which include the two new fees.
The approval of the two fees was not done in a vacuum; it was not done in the dark nor away from public scrutiny. The discussion of a parks fee has been in public arena for more than a year; both hearings and public forums have been held to unveil the current state of our parks as well as how much money is needed to maintain them.
Both the parks fee and the public safety fee will be dedicated—meaning revenues from each fee may only be used for parks or police and cannot be diverted to any other part of the city’s budget.
The city’s charter and state law allows the council to impose a service fee. It is the imposition of a tax that requires a vote of the people. Again, the council did not approve the two fees lightly. A detailed survey about parks was sent to every Keizer home earlier this year asking about everything from park amenities to frequency of use by members of the household. It gave options for a monthly fee and what each one would pay for. Interested persons could also fill out the survey online.
The state of Keizer parks and the impact of a fee were the topics at neighborhood meetings, parks board meetings and other gatherings.
There was no lack of transparency when it came to what why and how the parks fee would be. There was no survey regarding a public safety fee, but again there was transparency in the effort to add $4 a month to water/sewer bills to add the five people Police Chief John Teague says is needed to keep up with the needs of Keizer’s police department.
Early in the process Mayor Cathy Clark was on the record saying that it should not and must not be a choice between parks and police, that it was vital to fund both for the betterment of the city and its residents.
They say that freedom isn’t free, well, neither are city operations. Keizer has the lowest tax base of any full service city in Oregon; the rate was locked in with passage of several state-wide measures in the early 1990s. Keizer’s founding fathers were content with a rate of $2.08 per $1,000 of valuation. The city has lived with that rate for more than 30 years. Some in the private sector say that the city should live within its means. That’s a nice view but no one foresaw in 1982 (when Keizer was incorporated into a city) how PERS and health insurance would affect municipal budgets in 2017. The city is mandated to pay into PERS, an expenditure which increases every year. To be a preferred employer the city has to offer health insurance, and increases in that field are a given.
Some people wanted voters to have a say on the fees. There is no guarantee that voters would approve either fee; the city needs extra money now to fund two items that are crucial to the livability and marketability of Keizer. Those are the key points: homeowners need to feel secure that their investment will grow in value. That’s accomplished with keeping Keizer the most desired address in the Willamette Valley.
The city should not behave as it has received a big infusion of cash to play with; parks will get better, public safety will be more secure. Keizer has shown to be a good trustee of the taxpayer dollar, but city leaders must understand that their budget decisions in the coming years will be under the citizen’s microscope.