By Bill Dahl
On Tuesday evening, Sept. 19, the Redmond City Council proposed tacking on a “public safety fee” of $6 a month to residents’ monthly utility bills ($72 per annum), raising the cash to add more police officers to the department. That is a terribly slippery slope. No city of Redmond resident vote is required to implement this fee.
Cities in Oregon are under siege to address increasing costs and stagnant revenues. While population growth in Redmond is projected to be flat in the near term, city law enforcement resources are, and have been, stretched beyond reason. While a few Oregon cities have resorted to that type of fee to address resources for public safety, most have done so as a last resort — to avoid debilitating cuts in public safety and emergency services. Yet, an aggressive leap into levying fees across the board in Redmond without voter approval, where no cuts in public safety resources are anticipated, demands dialog. A prudent person would ask the following:
Where can the city make cuts in the current budget? Have the city and the police department exhausted all available grant opportunities to provide funding for additional officers? Has our congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., been consulted regarding available grant resources? What was their response? Are there other revenue streams that might be created (that would tap) the nonresident population of the city of Redmond, whose activities demand city law enforcement resources? (Have those) been considered and thoroughly exhausted? What is the “sundown date” on such a fee? Are Redmond residents and the business community insulated from any future fee increases and/or fee levying activity by the mayor and the City Council?
Utility fees are just that. They are also usage fees based upon actual consumption. The proposed public safety fee tacked onto utility bills is not a usage fee. Furthermore, to relegate community law enforcement staffing resources to a vehicle where wastewater and sewage fees are assessed is downright stinky … this suggestion simply does not pass the smell test.
Maybe Redmond should get out of the golf business. … Redmond businesses and residents have borne city utility rate increases of 2 percent , as identified in the 2015/2016 budget. When one examines the 2016/2017 city budget, one thing jumps out: golf course debt at the beginning of the 2016/17 budget year was $4,812,778 with $419,611 of annual debt service.
Furthermore, the budget reveals: “Over the last several fiscal years, the General Fund has needed to cover the payments on the majority of these debt obligations. The FY 2016/17 budget assumes the General Fund will need to cover about 100 percent of the bond payments associated with building the golf course over a decade ago.” (p. 50 of Redmond 2016/2017 Budget)
Redmond, like many Oregon cities has and continues to have an addictive affection for urban renewal funds. However, there’s a downside to a fiscal focus of this nature — earmarking future property tax revenues to address the urban renewal debt already on the books. Thus, when the police department requires more officers to protect the community properly, city management is at a loss for where those funds will be derived. That is shortsighted.
The merit of the need for additional police officers for Redmond is unequivocal (although I need to be persuaded about the legitimate need for a “downtown foot patrol”). Yet, proceeding down that slippery slope of assessing fees to utility bills to provide adequate funding for the essential and fundamental public safety resources the community and the department deserve — well, like I’ve said — demands dialog.
City of Redmond financial resources have an uncanny inertia for expenditures designed for embalming the past (Evergreen Elementary School acquisition/renovation and ongoing expenditures attempting to reinvigorate a “downtown core,” and an urban renewal funds addiction) versus planning for the absolute fundamental necessities of the future.
The men and women of the Redmond Police Department deserve more personnel, resources and vastly better financial planning from the city. So do the residents of Redmond.
— Bill Dahl lives in Redmond.