In May, Deschutes County 911 will ask voters for 3 cents less than originally planned. The change is a smart response to citizen questions about the earlier request for a five-year levy of 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
The lower number is possible because the district has a surplus of nearly $10 million built up for a variety of reasons, including issues surrounding its move to a new building and reserves for upcoming technical needs.
Several financial analyses have determined the district can safely meet the needs of its $7.5 million annual operating budget by using part of the surplus to cover temporarily for a lower levy. Still, it’s critical to realize this is a short-term solution, and a more permanent approach will be needed.
Cutting down the request is the right move at this point; government should ask voters for only what is absolutely needed. But there are risks.
First is the possibility that voters will think the recalculation suggests there’s still a cushion and the rate could be even lower.
Second is that it reduces the surplus that may be needed if voters in the future reject a more long-term solution, as they’ve done before.
The 911 district operates now with two levies — a permanent 16 cents and a temporary 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That temporary levy, approved in 2008, expires this year. The district needs a permanent levy sufficient for its needs, but voters said no last year to a ballot measure that would have created a new combined permanent levy of 39 cents per $1,000 assessed value.
Temporary funding gives voters the chance to re-evaluate performance at regular intervals, but it hampers strategic planning involving hiring and equipment maintenance and upgrades. For a service as essential as 911, a permanent approach is preferred. It makes sense, however, that the district is seeking temporary funding this time after voters rejected a permanent levy so recently.
When a person needs 911 services, the need is critical. But most voters don’t need 911 most of the time, so its requirements may not be front and center in their minds. That means the district needs to launch a concerted effort for its levy, making voters aware of its needs and the services it provides. And voters need to say yes.