Elections

Orting voters to decide on tax hike meant to boost police presence

Orting residents have said they want a stronger police presence in their city. A proposition on the November ballot seeks to generate the revenue needed to pay for more officers.

THE PROPOSAL

The Orting City Council authorized Proposition 1, which asks voters to consider approval of a 3.4 percent utility-tax increase.

WHAT IT WOULD DO

Approval of the ballot measure would raise the tax to 9.4 percent of the total gross revenues of electricity, manufactured and natural gas, telephone and cable services operating in the city.

The city estimates that the increase would cost residents an additional $11.75 per month, on average, for utility expenses.

City Administrator Mark Bethune estimated that the new revenue would allow for about three additional police officers and increased hours for support staff.

He stressed that the exact number of new positions may change since the city also must calculate other costs, such as equipment and vehicles needed for new hires.

WHY IT MATTERS

The Orting Police Department has 11 full-time officers, including the chief.

Although that staffing level is standard for cities of comparable size, Bethune said, it isn’t ideal. He said the increase in utility taxes would allow the department to reach “full staffing,” increasing safety of residents and officers alike.

Residents have urged city officials to improve public safety in recent years amid violent incidents in the community of about 7,000 people. Those include the assault of a local business owner two years ago and a homicide in February 2014 that remains unsolved.

The concerns spurred the formation of a controversial citizen patrol group and led residents to trade stories about suspicious activity on various online community forums.

Bethune said Proposition 1 was a direct response to citizens’ concerns.

“When you have a murder,” he said, “that really changes the complexion of the situation for everyone.”

WHAT’S ALREADY HAPPENED

Bethune said this is the first attempt to significantly increase police resources in Orting since they were reduced during the recession.

The Orting City Council directed staff to hire a new police officer last year.

Bethune said the city used property tax revenue to cover the cost, thanks to improved property values.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682

kari.plog@thenewstribune.com

@KariPlog

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