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Police department to increase outreach on space issues before going to voters

What seemed like strong momentum on the road to creating a new public safety facility for the city of Beaverton hit a roadblock — in the guise of a seemingly uninformed or uninterested public.

Fifty seven percent of respondents in a recent telephone survey city staff commissioned indicated they were unaware of workspace issues facing the police, emergency management departments and municipal courts. Therefore, they would not likely support a bond measure.

As a result, city staff will not place the bond measure on the May ballot, and will likely not take it to voters at least until the Nov. 5 election.

Holly Thompson, program manager with the city of Beaverton, said the results — were not what city staff wanted to hear, but clarify what needs to be done in terms of greater public outreach.

“I’d say we’re disappointed, but we’re still committed to getting the story out there,” she said on Wednesday. “It just means we have to do our homework and make our case to the public. If we can make our case, and explain to the people that we need a public safety building, I think we will have a different outcome.”

Placing the bond measure before voters in November is a possibility, but only after a comparable survey sometime this summer or fall indicates voters are more informed about public safety needs.

Conducted by Portland-based research firm Campbell DeLong Resources, the survey posed questions to 400 registered voters. Two hundred voters were asked about a “civic center” option, which incorporated a new city hall, police department and court facilities at one location, while 200 were asked about a new public safety building in the current location of City Hall at 4755 S.W. Griffith Drive.

Fifty-two percent said “no” to the civic center option, which would carry a $54 million bond for 20 years, while 58 percent said “no” to a separate public safety building with a $46 million price tag.

Since the survey was taken, the City Council decided on Jan. 15 to relocate city government offices to the South Office Building it owns at The Round at Beaverton Central and focus on a new public safety facility, based on modern safety as well as seismic standards, at the current City Hall site.

Of the 400 registered voters contacted, 42 percent said they were aware of the need for an expanded facility while 2 percent said they didn’t know if they were or weren’t.

Thompson said a public safety facility is more difficult to sell to the public than, say, a bond measure to benefit a budget-ravaged school district.

“If you compare it to the school funding issue, there’s a higher percentage of people who understand what’s going on with schools because they have students in school, and their kids don’t have an art or music class,” she said.

That’s especially true when citizens indicate they’re satisfied with their law enforcement services. The same poll that revealed lack of enthusiasm for a new facility indicated 75 percent of the respondents gave police high marks on service delivery.

Police Chief Geoff Spalding, who has banged the drum for the past year or so regarding cramped as well as unsafe conditions in the police department, said while he’s disappointed with the results, he understands the communication gap behind them.

“The results are not totally unexpected,” he said. “We haven’t gone out with a full-blown media event like the city has done for other things in the past. The public has to understand what the need is for a public tax increase to fund a public safety building. I was hoping it would be a little higher, but I understand why and know what we need to do.”

Calling the delay a “temporary setback,” Spalding acknowledged the high level of public support for his agency’s work doesn’t clearly translate to a desire for more investment.

“It’s an interesting phenomenon. People say we’ve provided such a high level of service, so we’re obviously doing a good job. So how is a new building going to make us do any better?” he reasoned. “But it will, by allowing us to grow and continue to provide that high level of service.”

Back at the drawing board, Spalding intends to form a committee to determine different venues and strategies for public outreach through the coming summer and fall before gauging if public sentiment exists to justify a bond measure on the November ballot.

“We will look at all the alternatives available to get the word out to the public,” he said. “Because not only do we need public support, we want it.”

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