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Police fee approved without dissent

Of the Keizertimes

With a unanimous vote, the Keizer City Council approved the city’s first-ever fee for a city service other than a utility, $4 a month to create a dedicated fund for police staffing.

The council addressed the matter in two parts, the first was an ordinance imposing the fee, the second was a resolution setting the amount.

The fee will be added to monthly bills for sewer and water services, but the bills themselves might be getting a name change to something akin to a “city services bill.” Since utilities are billed bimonthly, the charge will appear itemized as $8 for police services beginning in November 2017.

The $4 rate will be discounted for some segments of the population and businesses. Multi-family dwelling units will be charged $3.45 per month to account for vacancies. Senior living residential facilities will pay a flat $4 fee for the entire facility. Seniors and low-income households can qualify for a $1.12 per month rate provided they notify the city and show documentation. Copies of the documentation will not be kept by the city. Delinquent accounts will be charged a $37 fee after 14 days, but no residents will have their water cut off for failure to pay the fee.

In a document provided by Keizer Finance Director Tim Wood, the city expects to collect approximately $626,000 annually for police services. The fee, at least initially, is expected to pay for the addition of five new officers: two officers would be added to the night patrol shifts, and one officer each would be added to the Community Response Unit, the detective unit and the traffic unit. However, councilors refrained from limiting the funds for solely those expenses.

While there are not plans to raise the fee in the immediate future, the council and Budget Advisory Committee will review the fee at the beginning of each budget cycle to determine if changes are warranted.

“It’s going to lead to some tough decisions because the costs are going to escalate. I don’t know there’s any way to tell (by how much),” said City Manager Chris Eppley.

The city has had difficulty pulling the trigger on hiring new officers because of escalating PERS (public employee retirement system) costs that consume large chunks of new general fund revenue.

Councilor Amy Ryan suggested changing the name of the bill residents receive to clear up confusion about the addition of new fees (which will also include a $4 monthly fee for parks, see related story Page A1).

“There is a sense that by changing our verbiage we can clarify what we are doing and why,” agreed Mayor Cathy Clark.

Three residents spoke during time set aside for public testimony. Jerry McGee supported the police fee, but not a discounted rate for seniors who, he said, benefit equally from police services. Bill Quinn also voiced his support for the fee. Dave Bauer took issue with the whole process.

“The fee is a slippery slope and a dangerous way to earn money. What about new councilors who have a different ideas? There is precedent that is going to be set and I want you to understand that. It’s a way to get money, but I’m not sure it’s the right way,” Bauer said.