A possible safety fee in Redmond was met with skepticism at a town hall meeting Monday night at City Hall.
The majority of the crowd voiced support for the police department and didn’t argue the necessity of the fee — but were leery about the process with which the fee would be established.
“I have no problem with a public safety fee but by shortening the process it’s going to lose a lot of support,” said Cathie Martin, 79. “The people of Redmond are very generous and we know we need this, but it should be a levy that the taxpayers vote on. Not just show up on our water bill.”
Monday’s meeting garnered interest from about 35 Redmond citizens and was the first step in a public process for establishing a public safety fee.
If approved, the $6 fee tacked on to residents’ water bills would fund an additional six police officers in Redmond. The goal is to bring the current staffing ratio of officers per 1,000 residents from 1.3 to 1.67. The increase in staff would allow the Redmond Police Department to establish its own drug enforcement team, increase the size of daily patrol teams on duty from 3.2 officers to 4.4, help reduce traffic violations or accidents and institute a downtown foot patrol.
The public safety fee only needs approval from the city council and residents will not be voting on it, though city staff is requesting public feedback.
“Our main thing is to explain what and why this is,” City Manager Keith Witcosky. “The City Council has the authority within their charter to implement this fee but we are treating this like a campaign.”
The fee is the answer to the 2017 results from Redmond’s annual community survey, in which 53 percent of the survey’s respondents indicated that community and public safety was the No. 1 priority for increased investment from the city.
“No one likes fees — we know that,” said Jason Neff, deputy director of central services for Redmond’s department of finance. “We thought an $8 fee was too much to start but the $6 would get us to where we need to be. We desire that it wouldn’t change.”
The increase in revenue from property taxes as the result of future population growth is estimated to be enough to fund additional officers in the future, Neff said.
The town hall crowd echoed support for the fee in principle, but wanted a citywide vote, such as for a police levy, as a way to ensure the money is used as described and the cost to taxpayers doesn’t increase.
The problem with a levy, however, is that it does not allow the department to promise any kind of job security for its officers, said Redmond Police Lt. Curtis Chambers. If their salary is only guaranteed for at most five years, it hinders the department’s ability to recruit potential employees.
The next step in the process, Witcosky said, will be to bring the public input and recommendations to the city council on Dec. 12.
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