Voters in University Place and two Pierce County fire districts have important public safety funding issues on the Nov. 4 ballot. All three measures deserve support.
• University Place: This small city is one of the safest around, and a proposed 3.5 percent utility tax earmarked for police protection aims to keep it that way.
Although only two police officers are on patrol there at any given time, their mission is to respond to every call, even ones many other departments don’t bother with (vehicle prowls, shoplifting and suspicious persons reports, for instance).
But University Place’s share of property tax revenue isn’t keeping up with increased costs to the city. So either revenue must increase or service must decrease.
Passage of the utility tax would stabilize patrol staffing — which is down from 15 in 2001 to 12 today — and even allow a third officer to be on patrol at times. Failure could mean additional cutbacks and only one police officer on patrol at some times.
Residents currently pay the lowest annual cost per capita in Pierce County for police service — $109, compared to $373 in Puyallup and $291 in the unincorporated county.
The alternatives to the utility tax aren’t good: a business and occupation tax would hurt efforts to grow the tax base, and further cuts to city services wouldn’t raise enough (a third of city staff was cut after the Great Recession hit). Residents who value their safe community should vote yes.
• East Pierce Fire & Rescue: Approving the four-year maintenance and operations levy would keep service levels where they are. Failure would likely mean reductions in response time and other cutbacks.
Because the department is largely funded by property taxes, its revenues were hit hard when property values plummeted due to the recession. Cuts were made in ways that minimize effects to service, but the department can’t afford to lose the 14 percent of its budget that the levy funds. The levy, which costs about 37 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, simply continues the current tax; it is not a new cost to taxpayers. Vote yes.
• Graham Fire & Rescue is in the same boat as East Pierce, trying to maintain service levels even as its budget has faced severe shortfalls due to the recession. It, too, has been aggressive about making cuts.
Now it’s asking voters to approve a four-year maintenance and operations levy of 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to prevent reductions in service levels and allow it it meet an increased number of emergency calls. Vote yes.
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