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Milwaukie public-safety advocates expressed their anger last week about having not enough replacements in sight for retiring police officers in the wake of the city’s potential acquisition of the Three Creeks neighborhood and a consultant’s study of police staffing that would be needed to cover criminal activity in new city territory.

Citizens appointed to advise elected officials are concerned that a Milwaukie police captain is being asked to cover duties of a nonuniformed clerk in the department who’s retiring after 33 years of service. Milwaukie Police Department Capt. David Rash is expected to fill in for Jill Tate, the retiring confidential secretary to Police Chief Bob Jordan.

In response to the city’s policy to delay replacing positions to help pay off the rest of its $5 million light-rail obligation, Milwaukie Public Safety Advisory Committee members arrived in force at City Hall on Thursday evening to show their support for a unanimous letter of concern to the City Council. Committee Chairman Don Wiley, a representative nominated by the Linwood neighborhood, warned the City Council that the police department already is down two full-time officers, and it takes at least 18 months to hire new officers and train them to the point that they can patrol on their own.

“With the light rail coming in, we need to have a police department that is fully staffed,” Wiley said. “If an officer were injured or resigned, in addition to those we know of who are retiring, we could be in a difficult position even if we didn’t have light rail or any expansion.”

Councilor Dave Hedges said he was the angriest that he’s been since he was elected to the City Council in 2010, saying “the lunatics are running the asylum” if the city can’t replace people in the police department, but can find money to employ consultants to study staffing there.

“That is disgusting to do that to the police department,” Hedges said.

Mayor Jeremy Ferguson noted that the annexation of the Three Creeks area is only in its initial review. Chief Jordan has expressed his opposition to hiring nonweapon-carrying officers, but Ferguson wanted a review to look at the possibility of community resource officers and reassigning Tate’s duties.

“I understood this to be the track that the city manager’s office was asked to perform,” Ferguson said, referring to a previous meeting of elected officials on June 20. “From my understanding of that individual’s role, I would question whether we should rehire that position one-for-one.”

Every time a position comes open, the city “steps back” and assesses the necessity of the position, said Teri Bankhead, assistant to City Manager Bill Monahan, who was on vacation until Monday, July 29. Ferguson noted that his “first order of business” when Monahan returns will be to discuss the police department.

Annexation considerations

City officials were interested in annexing the Three Creeks area to gain control of land where Clackamas County had wanted to build the controversial extension of Harmony Road.

But of foremost concern for Milwaukie is money to pay its light-rail debt to TriMet, staffing cuts and a potential library expansion. Light rail will cause an estimated $40,000 to $50,000 hit to Milwaukie’s property-tax rolls due to properties TriMet acquired and took off the tax rolls. Property owners in newly annexed areas would see a tax increase of $3.51 per $1,000 assessed value.

Annexation of 14 homeowners would cause about a $700 annual tax increase in a typical $200,000 home. Clackamas Community College wants to annex its Harmony Campus there into the city, but as a governmental agency, it wouldn’t have to pay for any tax increase.

Consultants recommended capturing a section of the Three Creeks area that already is considered by many to be a portion of the city. Increased police presence needed for the area would put the city an estimated $770,000 in the hole initially before tax revenues start coming in to reverse the funding gap.

Business analyst Pat Mobley, whom the city hired in January to look at annexation and police staffing, recommended that the City Council consider the double-majority option to annex. Under state annexation laws, the city would be able to proceed if more than 50 percent of the approximately 80 registered voters and half of the 53 landowners in the geographic area consent in writing to the annexation.

Police staffing

Mobley said, based on initial crime data, five to seven additional officers would be needed to cover the annexation at roughly $120,000 per recruit for training, salary and benefits. Chief Jordan indicated back in April that he would be comfortable with five officers.

Presented with Mobley’s findings in June, Councilor Mark Gamba suggested rather than expect the “worst-case scenario,” the city, which has a higher number of officers than comparable jurisdictions, should simply continue to make sure that its police coverage remains better.

“What if we bring on police officers we’d like to have more slowly?” Gamba said. “If we can see a way to feather that in as the income comes in, then I’m more interested.”

Hedges argued it’s not just the extra time that police take to respond to calls. He noted that Gladstone is too far away, and CCSO is spread too thin.

“We only really have Portland for backup,” Hedges said.

Ferguson suggested “expending some of our political capital” to get Milwaukie excused from responding to calls in Portland and unincorporated areas of Clackamas County.

Last month Monahan noted it might not make sense that a MPD sergeant currently coordinates maintenance of vehicles, and a full officer isn’t always needed to act as a resource for students at a city’s high school.

“We have a really high call volume compared to similar jurisdictions,” Monahan said.

Hedges blasted Monahan’s perceived need to get past the “big hurdle” of a proposed light-rail and library ballot measure first.

“One is bringing money in because we don’t have it, and the other is spending money that we don’t have,” Hedges said.

It appeared last week that Hedges could be outnumbered on the City Council when it comes to looking at possible ways to shake up the police department. Certain types of consultants add value to city governance, argued City Council members Gamba and Scott Churchill.

“Having an outside perspective is valuable when you’re analyzing an entire department,” Gamba said.

Hedges countered that it didn’t make sense to fund light rail through police department cuts, especially if it led to increased crime or the department losing the state accreditation it worked so hard to obtain this year.

“If we weren’t short of money then it would make sense to bring in a consultant to study the police department,” he said.

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