Price of protection: Aumsville council considers a police service fee

December, 2017 Posted in Community

By Mary Owen

On the 2017 Safewise Safest Cities Survey list of the 20 safest cities in Oregon, Aumsville was ranked fourth.

“This is up nine spots from the 13th where we were last year, and 21st the year before,” said Richard Schmitz, Chief of the Aumsville Police Department. “I believe one of the biggest reasons for this rise has to do with the fact we were able to add a sixth officer to the police department two years ago.”

Schmitz told residents via their community newsletter that by adding the officer, the department was able to provide 24-hour coverage 80 to 90 percent of the time. But, he added, the cost for providing this service is outpacing the revenue coming to the city.

“Our step increases are up roughly 5 percent, dispatching fee, 3.5 percent, PERS 5 percent, and insurance between 7 and 10 percent,” Schmitz told Our Town. “When you look at all those increases, we just can’t keep pace.”

A forecast model was implemented recently by the city manager to help assess where the city’s financial well-being will be in the next two years, he said.

“Unfortunately, this has shown that without a secure funding source, the police department will have to start making cuts to its personnel within the year,” Schmitz said. “Keeping a sixth officer is important for us to keep our city safe. We’ve reduced our crime rate, but we’re looking at a point that we can’t maintain our current level of service without adding to our funding source.”

The most logical choice is to implement a “police service fee,” he said.

“The city of Keizer just implemented this fee to hire an additional five officers,” Schmitz said. “This fee has become a popular way to shore up funding for police departments around Oregon, and is currently being used in approximately one quarter of the departments statewide.”

The city council has joined with Schmitz in exploring a police service fee per household to keep the department’s current status or in the best scenario, add one more officer to boost coverage to 100 percent.

“This will be a flat-based fee of $6 to maintain the department or $12 to add another officer,” he said. “We are considering a discounted rate for seniors and possibly low-income residents, which could up the rates slightly.”

Schmitz said he talked to a young mother recently about stretching her $1,000 monthly budget to cover the fee, but that she viewed it important to have police coverage.

“It’s not lost on me that many of us are struggling to make ends meet,” Schmitz said. “But ask yourself, ‘what is the cost of peace of mind?’”

Without the fee, budget cuts could mean even slower response times or even trading personalized service to over-the-phone conversations, Schmitz said.

“We try to keep a personal touch when dealing with people, but if we have to cut services, some of that will go away,” he added. “Without a source of funding, you could be waiting an hour, or longer, for help in an emergency. I wouldn’t want to see any citizen afraid they may have heard or seen someone in their backyard with no officer available to make sure they are safe.”

Schmitz said the fee is the equivalent of one less specialty coffee a week per family.

“What is it worth to know that if you ever need an officer in an emergency, they are only a couple of minutes away?” he asked. “We can’t count on Marion County deputies to cover our needs as they, too, are facing funding constraints and may not have an officer available,” he added, referring to Aumsville’s backup relationship with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. ”

Schmitz welcome residents to discuss the proposed fee with him personally, or to attend the public hearing at the upcoming Aumsville City Council meeting, Dec. 11,
7 p.m. at the community center.

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