NORTH BEND — The North Bend Police Department stands to lose seven police officer positions and one dispatcher as the city plans to accommodate a reduced public safety fee.
On Thursday, the North Bend City Council met in a work session to discuss the proposed budget for 2020-2021. The budget decreased by $785,000 after 58% of voters reduced the public safety fee last month, approving Measure 6-177. The vote brought the fee down from $30 to $15. The citizen initiative passed after years of discord between the public and the city council as the fee increased on resident’s water bills. The fee began at $5 but soon became $30, even after a 2018 vote that said “No” to any additional increases.
During the work session, City Manager Terence O’Connor said a judge identified that the cuts could only come out of the police department rather than the North Bend Fire Department “even though we placed both of those in the category of public safety….”
When asked about this, O’Connor said he could not comment on ongoing litigation.
During the election, The World pointed out that there was no mention in the ballot measure’s summary of firefighters losing personnel and asked why a reduction of the fee would impact fire services. In response to these questions, O’Connor had said, “…the departments are both funded out of the general fund… As funds get eliminated or reduced, there is a domino effect on how that impacts all of the operations in the general fund. Police and fire are the preeminent users of tax dollars and fees of the general fund because taxes don’t cover the cost of police and fire….”
For the North Bend Police Department to lose seven officers, O’Connor told The World after Thursday’s work session that this would leave 13 officers on staff, adding that this would impact the department’s ability to provide 24-7 coverage.
“As it stands now, that which we said in the ballot explanation is what we’re moving forward with, which is no police services from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” O’Connor said.
That change will begin July 1 so long as the city approves the budget next Tuesday, June 9.
“Clearly it’s not a decision anyone wished to have happen, however voters have decided they wanted to reduce the funding so we’re reducing personnel,” O’Connor said.
During public comment at the start of Thursday’s work session, North Bend resident Patty Cook encouraged the city to again pursue a unified 911 Call Center. This call center would be between the police departments of North Bend and Coos Bay, as well as the Coos County Sheriff’s Office.
“I spoke a little with the Coos County part and it seems they would be willing,” Cook said. “Not sure about Coos Bay, but that would be part of the issue of resolving this thing.”
O’Connor told Cook it would cost North Bend $250,000 in savings to make this happen, adding that back when the unified call center was being discussed “North Bend was all in.”
“In fact,” he said, “that time that year we banked on the fact that was going to happen. We’re willing to go back….”
Union representative for the North Bend Police Department, Cory Finnigan, made a statement during public comment, looking back on alleged improvements seen in the community as a result of having more police officers. He said during the 2017 contract negotiations, when there was reduced staffing, one of the items of concern was the heavy reliance on overtime in the department.
The contract negotiations also covered issues of “…employees working six days a week, (employees who) could not take regular time off, the dangers of an out of balance work life and the adverse impact on the wellbeing of employees and ability to effectively carry out duties,” he said.
Finnigan pointed out likely problems of returning to the staffing model seen four years ago, including problems seen in 2013 to 2016 when a 36% increase in overtime was reported in the department. There was also a 28% increase in paid time off accruals due to the inability to schedule days off. He added that in 2013, the department saw 16,000 calls for service and in 2019, it saw over 23,000 calls for service.
Meanwhile, Steve Carlson commented, identifying himself as one of the department’s new officers who moved to the South Coast from 2,000 miles away.
“You start cutting police and public safety goes out the window,” he said. “Is that going to entice people to live in North Bend? As a parent … that concerns me.”
“We’ve gone through I don’t know how many iterations and ways to come up with solutions for this particular problem,” O’Connor told the council. “At this point, this is where we are.”
The budget will be considered for approval next week.