City budget preview: Police services fee could escalate quickly

Members of the Keizer Budget Advisory Committee got a preview of what to expect when budgeting season begins in about 60 days. The biggest challenge the group can expect to grapple with is what to do about the monthly police services fee added to utility bills in November 2017. 

The group met under the title of the Keizer Long-Range Planning Committee Monday, March 9.

The police fee pays for five full-time officers at the Keizer Police Department (KPD), but a rash of retirements has kept the Keizer Police Department from maintaining a full roster of 42 officers and eight administrators. The glut of departures has strained the city budget as retiring employees collect payments for accrued time off and that has meant positions at the department are being held open while the city saves money to fill them. 

Currently, there at 47 full time positions filled at KPD and roughly half of a full time equivalent in paid part-time staff. 

To combat the backslide, city staff floated the idea of raising the the police services fee from $4 per month to $5.33 a month in the 2020-21 fiscal year. The increase will generate an additional $226,000.

“That would pay for another full-time officer and offset some of the expenses we expected would grow when we established the fee,” said Tim Wood, Keizer finance director. 

However, the fee growth would not stop there. In 2021, the fee would climb to $7.39 per month and, by 2025, the fee might nearly triple to $11.93 per month. City officials were aware that the fee would likely need to increase over time when it was put in place, but some at the meeting appeared caught off guard by the exponential fee growth projections. 

When the city put in place fees for police and parks services, City Manager Chris Eppley said, the park fee was the harder sell. 

“With police, we knew what we were buying – five people. I think now the parks fee is easier to define because we can see all the improvements that have been made where the police fee is the more difficult burden because a lot of it is philosophical. It’s selling how safe a person feels,” Eppley said. 

“We could do without the other five cops, but our policing wouldn’t be the same,” Teague said. “Our policing style would have to be more reactive. It might be more fun for the guys on patrol, but it would be less rewarding and not a good thing for the community.”

Teague added that it took about three years to move to a proactive policing stance and he would hate to see it go backward. 

To help make the case for the fee increases, Teague said police department employees are beginning a conversation about what services the department could add. One example is the Citizen’s Academy already underway, but Teague said another option under consideration is offering fingerprinting services at the Keizer police station rather than sending individuals to the Oregon State Police. 

“I don’t think people should just acquiesce to the higher fees,” Teague said. “We should prove that we are deserving.”

The parks fee is projected to remain at $4 per for the foreseeable future, but it is up for review each year. That fee has paid for widened pathways throughout Keizer’s 19 parks, a new playground at Meadows Park, a portion of the bathrooms at Keizer Rapids Park, the rehabilitation of Carlson Skate Park, a new sports court at Willamette Manor Park, two new employees and new equipment among thousands of other dollars in improvements. 

Councilor Kim Freeman asked that both police and parks officials prepare a one-sheet report showing what the fees have accomplished so far. 

“I would also like to see a report on what would happen if the parks fee was decreased to make up for the increase in the police fee,” Freeman said.