Why I will vote 'no' on passing Measure 3-517
Along with the few recent letters to the editor supporting passage of Measure 3-517, we now see the billboard on the southwest corner of Seventh and Washington streets implying that passing this measure is going to "keep Oregon City safe." This kind of statement on the part of our police department and city leaders is unhelpful, using fear-based tactics, and essentially irresponsible.
There are real considerations that can be discussed, and should be discussed, as we move forward together in uncertain times. We can study and learn from the attempts of other cities to deal with similar challenges, and look at what good research tells us about how to build safe and healthy communities.
? Our South Fork Water Board, along with our county's Water Environment Services, ensures our safety and health every second of every day with essential fresh and drinkable water.
The staff at our Tri-City wastewater-treatment plant ensure our safety and health every second of every day by keeping our waste properly handled.
? The Oregon City parks-maintenance staff keeps us safe and healthy by cleaning up human feces, garbage, other waste and vandalism in our parks seven days per week, day after every day, that ultimately keeps us safe and healthy.
? Clackamas Fire District #1 keeps us safe by providing invaluable assistance during emergencies, coming up with excellent programs year after year that keep us safe into the future.
? The generous staff at Clackamas County Community Health, Clackamas County Mental Health and the Founders Clinic strive to keep us safe and healthy by working closely with the impoverished and disenfranchised members of our community.
? Our Public Works Department works every day of the year to provide essential infrastructure and competently respond to infrastructure emergencies that keeps us safe and gives us incredible peace of mind that we often take for granted as we enjoy our streets and other amenities we need to maintain a civilized community.
And the list goes on.
Our Oregon City Police Department does not have a monopoly on keeping us safe, and it is unreasonable to ask us to pass this bond with this lack of reasoning that skews the real issues that we might responsibly consider. This bond is not about "keeping Oregon City safe." Its primary concern is to provide a facility that both meets state and federal guidelines while better accommodating the needs of our community and our public law-enforcement staff.
Along with many other people, I was one of the city residents who were surprised when the last bond measure did not pass. As I started to inquire with almost everyone I came into contact with who were willing to reveal they voted "no," I learned two things. One, people were upset about the $6.50/month fee on their water and sewer bill. Many of them did not understand that the benefit of raising money in this manner. Everyone who has a water bill within our city limits contributes to the fund, not just residential customers. Two, people who saw the plans felt that the proposed building was "too fancy" for Oregon City, stating they did not believe we needed a "Taj Mahal" in order to provide police services, especially when so many other departments, especially our Community Services Department (Parks and Recreation), had been underfunded for as long as anyone could remember.
OK. So, let's look at the biennial budget on the city's website and compare.
On page 57 of the 2017-2019 Biennial Budget you can see the total budget for police is $20,013,322 or about $10 million per year. While this figure does not quite cover all the money spent on public law-enforcement in our city, let's go with it anyway. With a population of approximately 36,000 people, that comes up to about $280 per year per person. Remember, this figure has nothing to do with the funding of a new facility.
The 2012-2013 actual budget was just over $7 million, so in the span of six years, we raised expenses by about $3 million, or about $500,000 per year. If you add in the $1.8 million (approximately $900,000 per year) for our Municipal Court, which will also be housed in the proposed new facility, we see that we are spending about $330 per year per person in Oregon City for public law enforcement, and, when all aspects are considered, it's probably closer to $350. That means a family of four is spending approximately $1,400 per year on public law-enforcement services.
On page 63 we find the 2017-2019 Biennial Budget for Community Services to be slightly over $9 million, approximately $4.5 million per year. Notice this is less than half of what we have allocated for our public law enforcement. The budget includes a one-time allocation of $650,000 to replace the parks-maintenance building, which has been condemned for several years and, like the current police facility, is totally outdated. We can see the 2012-2013 budget was just over $3 million, so, like our police department, it has also increased about $500,000 per year, or $6 million. Thus, a family of four is now spending approximately $500 per year for Community Services, and $900 less per year than for public law enforcement.
We can compare the humble $650,000 for a new parks-maintenance facility with the approximately $16 million in additional funding our city leaders are asking us to pay for a new police and Municipal Court facility, on top of the budgeted expenses. Of course, we must spread this amount over a period of many years (the life of the building). Nevertheless, this is an enormous amount of money, the focus of which should be carefully considered.
Now let's keep broadening our perspective by looking at this measure from another angle.
First, our civic leaders have consistently been comfortable providing the additional police staff and programs that were asked for, but have consistently kept our parks staff at well below half of the national average for cities our size, and often even less than that. In addition, while all the talk and expense for the last few years has been about creating the beautiful new proposed police facility, there has not been a whisper about the fact that all our recreational facilities are pushed up against the edges of their ability to serve our community, with many aspects completely outdated. We should have had a new community center up on the hill many years ago.
Who is speaking up for the young people and their families who need a place to go on a rainy day where they can engage in safe and healthy activities that build community? A swimming pool for the residents on top of the hill? A good-sized gym, or two, that provide a place for our adolescents to come and play a game of basketball? No one talks about our city's quickly disappearing recreational opportunities as our population grows with no plan to accommodate increasing recreational needs.
As secretary of the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association for two years, it was my duty to keep all the handouts from each meeting; thus, I was able to review the police stats most of every month. As the stats are kept by neighborhood, it soon became clear that there were three neighborhoods where the majority of police responses occurred. When I asked one of the attending officers at our meeting about this, I inquired if these were impoverished neighborhoods, and the answer was "yes." When you think about this, add up all the dots, it is safe to say that we are spending a very large amount of money responding to the crises people with little education and far fewer opportunities to be safe and healthy deal with on a daily basis. You can respond by shrugging your shoulders and blaming the poor for their poverty, but this is not a good civic-minded approach.
Overwhelmingly conclusive research shows that a community's investment in parks and recreational services is far more effective in reducing crime than the best public law-enforcement program. Hands down. This research can be easily accessed online. Oregon City would have been way ahead of the game keeping our city safe had it invested in beautifully maintained parks and natural areas, along with family-focused neighborhood recreational facilities within walking and biking distance that could be used year-round by all ages. We might have spent $1,400 per year for a family of four, but we sure would have gotten a lot more return on our investment. And our city would be safer, with a lower rate of crime.
Our city needs a new, updated police facility. However, it should be noted that our Public Works Department, which has for many years also searched for a new place to house its growing facility needs, and was also initially interested in the Mt. Pleasant School property because of its central location, was quietly pushed out of consideration by our city leaders. Why? I don't know all the details, but am wondering if this was an act of poor judgement and possibly inappropriate pressure.
Citizens of Oregon City, let us refuse passage of this measure, and encourage our city leaders to rethink the direction we seem to be headed. Can we have a functional police department facility that is humble in stature and sustainably built, and transfer some of the $16 million, or more, to building new community centers and recreational programs for families, and for beautifully maintained parks and natural areas? For a Public Works facility that is not cramped into a hillside on the edge of town? For streets with wider planting strips to accommodate vital canopy trees? For mending many of our dowdy commercial areas that cry out for cleanliness and integrity?
Is it wise to have a fancy police facility when so much else around it is worn and crumbling? No places for our families and youth to gather and celebrate the satisfaction of building community together that are not commercialized?
I believe we can do better, and desperately NEED to do better. And I encourage each one of you to tell our city leaders that this is what we expect them to do, by voting NO on Measure 3-517.
Francesca Anton is an Oregon City citizen.