The Edgewood City Council has approved a new utility tax that will increase Police Department staffing, which has dwindled by nearly half over the last four years.
The move will generate about $475,000 over the next six years, creating three positions on the police force: two patrol deputies and an office worker.
Police Chief Ed Knutson said the new positions will be a huge improvement to the daily operations of the department.
“The staffing will increase the safety of the citizens,” he said.
The City Council voted unanimously last month to impose a 2.67 percent tax on gas, electricity, telephone, cable and garbage utility services.
Edgewood had been one of the few cities in Pierce County without a utility tax, said City Manager Mark Bauer. Neighboring cities, including Puyallup, Fife and Sumner, all have a tax.
For three years, Edgewood has gone without 24-hour police staffing as a result of budget cuts. It contracts with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department for police service.
At its peak in 2008, Edgewood had 11 full-time police positions. It now has six deputies.
Staffing has been cut by 45 percent since 2009, part of a city-wide reduction in personnel.
Knutson said those cutbacks required deputies to spend more time on investigations, resulting in less crime prevention and traffic control, among other duties. He has picked up clerical work.
“The cuts have been absorbed by everyone,” he said. “And some things just don’t get done.”
Response times also have suffered. During the hours not staffed by Edgewood officers, Knutson said, Pierce County sheriff’s deputies will respond to police calls, but they may have to drive from cities such as South Hill or Parkland.
Bauer said support for the utility tax has come a long way.
In 2004, citizens launched a referendum effort to repeal a 5 percent utility tax. Voters then overturned the tax by a wide margin in May 2005.
In December 2009, citizens were mostly supportive of a 3.5-percent utility tax, but a 5-2 vote still pointed to some council opposition.
Bauer said a unanimous council vote this time around indicates that the Police Department is in vital need of help.
“Over the last couple years this council has seen the need,” he said.
Edgewood spends significantly less on police staffing than comparable East Pierce cities, according to 2011 data. Sumner, for example — which has a similar population of about 9,500 — spends more than $600 per capita on law enforcement services; Edgewood spends slightly more than $100.
Officials say the reduction in funding has affected public safety. Bauer said there has been an increase in property crime since officers have less time to get out in the community and aren’t on duty 24 hours a day.
The city hopes to have its first new deputy on the streets in early 2014. The other will be added as Sheriff’s Department staffing allows. The office worker will start sooner, since that position doesn’t require academy training and other requirements that deputies must meet.
The utility tax is scheduled to end in 2020.
After that, the city hopes increased development from completed road projects will help maintain the same level of staffing.
“The vision is, within that six-year time frame, we’ll have new development occurring along Meridian (Avenue East) and hopefully an increase in sales tax to cover the operational needs of those positions,” Bauer said.Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 firstname.lastname@example.org @KariPlog