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Citizen’s choice

For Keizer citizens who rank public safety at the top of the issues list, the time has come to put their two cents in.

The city of Keizer has done a commendable job of communicating with its residents regarding current and future policing levels and how to pay for them.

There have been three Town Hall meetings so far to address this issue.  Keizer residents have the choice of being part of the conversation or letting the city councilors come up with a plan they think is best for the city and devising a revenue and budget plan to pay for that vision.

This week’s Town Hall framed the policing level issue better than ever.  Police Chief H. Marc Adams outlined a number of possible options which included revenue generating ideas, elimination of non-police city departments or leaving policing levels as they are.  Keizer currently has 37 police officers; Chief Adams says a city with our population should have 41 officers.

The city will endeavor to get a consensus from its residents if the current 37 officers is enough or if they would like to have the 41 officers Adams recommends.

Money that would go to the police department services including manning the four vacant officer positions has been diverted to pay for the city’s 9-1-1 service obligations.  Earlier this year the council considered a 3 percent registration fee for telecom companies to offset the rising 911 costs and static franchise fees from landline providers.

The estimated $600,000 that such a telecom fee would add to the general fund would allow the police department to get back to 41 officers.

At this week’s Town Hall meeting the telecom fee was identified as one possible revenue source.  Two other possible sources included a five year operating levy for the police department and a police utility services fee that would assess a $3 per dwelling and business unit per month charge on the bi-monthly water bill.

Other options included eliminating the parks program or the city’s planning department.  Eliminating either of those two departments would be an extreme move.

The savings accrued by eliminating the planning department would be gobbled up by fees levied by Marion County, which would presumably take over the planning duties, not to mention the timeliness of getting approval for permits.

Keizer’s own residents cite our quality of life here.  Dismantling all the city parks would be one of the worst things that could happen in Keizer.  City parks, sprinkled across our city’s landscape, are green spaces where residents can go to recreate and relax, especially during our economic climate when travel outside the area is hampered by high gas prices.

The city’s frugal, conservative spending over the past decades has left Keizer in good stead—we are better off than other cities that have had to chop half their employees due to shrinking revenues and increasing costs.  City Manager Chris Eppley, his staff, and the city council are doing a good job of running the city with a tax base that is frozen in the early 1990s.  As Chief Adams pointed out Monday there are Oregon cities half our size with a tax base that is four times higher.

The city can keep cutting and cutting city expenditures to squeeze the budget to fit decreasing revenues, or it can do what it did on Monday:  lay out ideas for how to adequate fund our police department.

The city has identified some ideas.  Now it is time to hear if the people are willing to pay for what they say they want:  public safety.