NORTH BEND — With the failure of North Bend city Measure 6-171, which discussed public safety fees, the city government will have to look for new avenues to fund its public safety deficit.
The measure was placed on the ballot to bridge a $1.3 million gap in funding for the North Bend police and fire departments.
Public safety accounts for more than half of the city of North Bend’s budget, this year costing the city around $5.3 million.
North Bend began collecting public safety fees at a rate of $5 monthly through citizen’s water bills around a year ago. Starting in July 2018 the council decided to increase those fees to $15 a month in order to balance and approve the city’s budget. The fee increase on the ballot would have raised public safety fees to $25 per month.
The gap in public safety funding stems from property taxes. Traditionally the cost of public safety in the city of North Bend has been sustained by property tax revenue. The city of North Bend can only raise property taxes by three percent each year, and the cost of public safety is rising at a rate which cannot be sustained by the revenue collected.
“There are other sources of revenue, and we’ve got to find them,” North Bend Mayor Rick Wetherell said. “Right now we’re in the position where we know where we’re not going, we’re not going with the fee, so we know we have to find other ways.”
Wetherell said that the city will be looking into a few different ways to fund public safety including things like a gas tax, a bond levy, and Urban Renewal.
However, Urban Renewal funds are tied to the Urban Renewal area in downtown North Bend. Urban Renewal funds also must go toward improving infrastructure and promoting business development.
According to North Bend Police Chief Robert Kappelman there are some contingency funds that will be assisting the police and fire departments in funding through the end of this fiscal year, but after that cuts will need to be made if a solution is not found.
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“Neither the fire or the police department have the budgets to continue operations as we are currently,” Kappelman said.
Kappelman urges the citizens of North Bend to attend city council meetings and tell councilors what services they want provide for them.
Wetherell also wants input from the public on what services they expect from the city’s public safety agencies.
“We have tons of public hearings, but the public doesn’t tend to appear at those. They do appear at the ballot box. If we put out an advisory vote, which is non-binding, we can see what people in the city are wanting to do,” Wetherell said.
North Bend Police Department posted a video on Facebook the day after the election in an attempt to educate the public on the cost of public safety. In the video Kappelman talks about a staffing study the department did some years back.
“We found that based on the work levels we were experiencing this department should have 33 sworn officers and were at 17. We understood that there was no way this community could afford to double its work force in the police department. The clean answer to that was that the minimum addition of four officers would allow us to move to a different shift that created a better opportunity for our officers to handle the number of calls coming in,” Kappelman said.
Since the police department added its four new officers it has changed its shifts for officers from 10 hours to 12 hours. The number of two officer calls that are responded to by only one officer has been reduced to almost zero. The additional officers also allowed the department to reduce its nearly month long delay for investigations into serious crimes down to less than 24 hours.
Without a new revenue stream the police and fire departments will be forced to start making cuts within the next year.