Below is the Guest Opinion column I authored that was published in the Bend (Oregon) Bulletin September 29, 2017 and the Redmond Spokesman earlier in the week.
A public Hearing on this matter is scheduled for Monday, November 13, 2017 at 5:30 pm at City Hall in Redmond, Oregon:
On Tuesday evening September 19th, 2017 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. This 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 this 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 D.C. been consulted regarding available grant resources? What was their response? Are there other revenue streams that might be created whereby the non-resident population of the City of Redmond whose activities demand City law enforcement resources been considered and thoroughly exhausted? What percentage of City of Redmond law enforcement resources are expended on non-residents of the City of Redmond? 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 of this nature?
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 down right 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%, as identified in the 2015/2016 budget and 3% effective July 2017. 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% of the bond payments associated with building the golf course over a decade ago.” (p.50. of Redmond 2016/2017 Budget . 2017/2018 Budget is HERE).
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 these funds will be derived. This 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 this 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 re-invigorate a “downtown core,” and an urban renewal funds addiction) vs. 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 the City of Redmond, Oregon.
A public hearing on this matter is scheduled for Monday, November 13, 2017 at 5:30 pm at City Hall in Redmond, Oregon.