Michelle Amberg, City Manager
CRESWELL – The results are in: A recent public safety survey favors adding another Creswell deputy to the roster through the public safety fee.
Survey results show that 75% would not mind paying an additional $5.76 per month for another deputy, which would effectively raise the public safety fee to $13.94 per month.
Creswell Public Safety Committee members Monday night agreed it will recommend that city council keep the public safety fee instead of adding a levy, and will recommend it add one more deputy beginning July 1.
Everyone who owns developed property within Creswell pays the fee, which is assessed monthly and is included in the utility bill. At its current state, the public safety fee is $8.18 per month.
Lacking full police coverage, Creswell is vulnerable for about 48 hours a week; it is hardly a surprise that the majority – 63% of respondents to the survey – reported wanting 24-hour coverage. What surprised the committee, however, is that 83% reported that the City should continue to collect the public safety fee.
”We thought when we did this (survey) we were levy-bound, but data doesn’t show that at all,” City Manager Michelle Amberg said at Monday night’s meeting. The data from the survey shows that the majority of citizens would support the current fee, but would not support an increase to the levy.
Policing is a contracted service in Creswell, as the City pays the Lane County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) for three deputies and a sergeant. Taxes pay for two deputies and one half of a sergeant, while the public safety fee pays for an additional deputy and brings the sergeant to full time. Creswell deputies each work 10 hours a day at 40 hours a week and the sergeant works 40 hours a week.
Beyond an officer, the contract includes vehicles, equipment, dispatch, records, detective support jail services, training, vacations, sick time, benefits, risk management and access to additional services provided by LCSO. Adding another deputy would cost $168,293 and would give the City a total of four deputies and one sergeant.
The methodology for the established public safety fee is a one-size fits all, said Amberg, who encouraged the committee to consider whether or not there are other fee methodologies worth examining.
While the same level of police service is provided to everyone, ”there may be some validity to develop a factor based on call volumes or experience, how the time proportionality works out,” Amberg said.
The committee discussed how an examination of call volumes from certain businesses and areas of town may help refine that fee. Deputies may spend a lot more time on DUIIs, or at businesses dealing with customers, or responding to hotels or high-density apartment complexes, for example.
”We went for a one-size-fits-all (public safety fee) when it was contentious at the time to try and get a new deputy. It might be time to look at something more sophisticated if you think that is warranted,” Amberg told the council. ”There might be a better method.”
Brainstorming, the committee considered different options. If backed by data, perhaps commercial properties pay more than residential, or perhaps different levels of residential – those areas with higher call volumes and incidents – would pay more for police service. Amberg stated that hotels should pay more than residences.
LCSO Creswell Sergeant Scott Denham noted that high-volume calls generally come from hotels, F Street apartments, RV parks, mobile home parks, Creswell Health & Rehab Center, the mill on Butte and 10th streets and Creswell School District. He said that the old Super 8 property is also patrolled several times daily.
The committee also identified a possible loophole in the public safety fee. Large apartment complexes sometimes have one water hook-up; potentially a 50-unit complex could be on one meter, meaning only one public safety fee is paid. The committee agreed to look into the issue.
Committee member Kevin Prociw cautioned council that proportioning fees differently to different areas of town could potentially encroach on a class issue. He and committee member Misty Inmann said that several of the survey participants noted that they are already low income and have trouble affording costs as-is.
Amberg suggested the committee research call data and to explore different options on how to divvy up the public safety fee.
A considerable amount – 56% of people – would pay for two deputies for an additional $11.51, according to the survey. Prociw said that conversation should be revisited in the future, and that getting to three deputies reaches into the ‘tough sell’ category, with only 34% in support for an additional $17.27.
Despite the encouraging survey results for adding another deputy, Prociw said that that the $5.76 increase per month is expected to draw some pushback from the community, and Amberg said this is a good opportunity to offer education around the structure of these fees and the state of public safety in the City.
The next city council meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 13 and there will be a work session on Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. Both meetings are at City Hall and the public is encouraged to attend.