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Budget talks continue to frustrate citizens

Of the Keizertimes

Adding officers to the Keizer Police Department has been one of the top priorities for the Keizer’s Budget Advisory Committee for the past several cycles. Yet, despite repeated advocacy on the part of committee members, there are no additional officers in the current draft budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The situation drew the displeasure of some members of the committee at a meeting of the Long Range Planning Task Force Monday, April 10. The task force includes the budget committee and members of the Keizer City Council.

“We talk about police being a priority, but it obviously isn’t because we haven’t done anything about it,” said Joseph Gillis, a member of the budget committee.

Jonathan Thompson, another member of the budget committee, said he took time out of his schedule to ride along with members of the police department last year and what he saw was eye-opening.

“More than half the time was spent dealing with somebody in a mental health crisis,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to figure out some way to ease the burden on the officers we have and add bodies. Are there other things we can do to make those resources more effective?”

Chief John Teague said KPD is already trying innovative ways to reduce the workload of the department’s 37 current officers, including having a parole and probation officer and DHS workers work alongside officers in the police station.

“The smoothness of services is spellbinding. It’s beyond what we expected to see,” Teague said.

Despite those efforts, some members of the budget committee questioned the purpose of the meeting given the outcome was already pre-determined.

“When we look at the budget next month, we already know none of the priorities we’ve set will come about,” said Ron Bersin, a budget committee member.

Bersin also suggested that the revenues promised with the creation of Keizer Station have not had the impact the idea was sold upon.

In an effort to assuage continued frustration with the process, the committee decided to move the long range planning meetings to January with the hope of having more of an impact on future budgets.

Adding police officers generated the most buzz in the room, but the task force and city staff also took up more generalized problems with city finances.

Tim Wood, Keizer’s finance director, said city staff traditionally start the year knowing they are given a budget greater than expected revenues.

“Then we ask the directors of each department to look for savings that will amount to $300,000 to $500,000 overall,” Wood said.

City Manager Chris Eppley said he and Wood are planning to start bringing the expected costs more in-line with expected revenues instead of placing the burden on staff.

While revenues are expected to climb by about $197,000 in the next fiscal year -– primarily as a result of new construction and a 3 percent rise in property taxes – the city will have to pay out an additional $166,000 to help cover the costs of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).

Eppley said there are some possible ways that revenue might increase. He said revenues from marijuana sales might pay off better than expected, and leasing some city-owned land could add a bit more, but cautioned against over-exuberance in either case.

“They are out there, but they will be slow and incremental and you will be frustrated by the (timeline),” Eppley said.