Gladstone police, fire levies get interesting this year
Gladstone's renewal of its fire and public-safety levies are usually humdrum affairs with no opposition and easily passing. While it's impossible to say what the election results will be this year, public opposition to both measures has given voters something more to think about.
Gladstone resident Scott Blessing, a volunteer/paid on-call firefighter in the city for the past 17 years, is going head-to-head with the Gladstone Fire Department Members Association in competing Voters' Pamphlet statements over the fire and medical services levy.
In the previous pages of the official informational pamphlet mailed to all Clackamas County voters, Gladstone City Councilor Neal Reisner is in opposition to Gladstone's police union members over the police levy.
In 1998, Gladstone voters first approved a tax of 31 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for fire and medical services. They voted to continue the levy in 2003, 2008 and 2012, but Blessing now is coming forward with a statement questioning why Gladstone now has "state-of-the-art fire trucks and equipment, lots of expensive, full-time captains and yet there is still a struggle to answer fire and medical calls."
GFD's Members Association wrote that some of the levy funds go to buying various types of firefighting equipment and funding new full-time positions so that the city firefighting and medical response can continue to meet or exceed industry standards.
"We ask for your continued support to continue improving the level and quality of fire and emergency medical services that we provide," the association wrote in its statement.
In November 1998, Gladstone voters authorized $275,500 to be levied for police each year for five years beginning in July 1999. During the November 2002 election, voters approved a "rate-based levy" at 68 cents per $1,000 assessed property value beginning in the 2004-05 budget year. By 2008-09, the levy was bringing in more than $400,000 a year for the Gladstone Police Department.
Now the police levy is bringing in more than $500,000 a year and — with the annual approximate 3 percent increase in property taxes — is expected to raise more than $700,000 by 2021-22.
Based upon an assessed value of $200,000, the typical homeowner in Gladstone will pay about $136 a year to pay for the police levy and $62 for the fire/medical levy, if the measures pass this November.
Reisner would like to see taxpayers save their money on the police levy and force the city to reassess its priorities for spending and assessment.
Police Chief Jeff Jolley said that Reisner's critical points about the police levy are mostly about the history of the department, which involve issues that have been addressed.
Jolley didn't see how previous issues with the canine program, Reisner being denied access to the police station, or Gladstone taxpayers spending thousands of dollars for a former police chief to evaluate Junction City's police department had any relevance to whether voters should support the continuation of the levy that currently is funding about 20 percent of the police department.
"What about the million bucks that got transferred?" Reisner asked. "He's correct that some of that stuff is in the past, but some of it is still relevant."
Reisner believes that a City Council vote to prevent individual councilors from having access to financial records helped contribute to the city being forced last year to transfer more than $1 million to various city departments that overspent their funds.
"I can't say anything about a councilor who doesn't support the levy; that's their choice," Jolley said.
Gladstone's union of police employees, the Gladstone Police Association, doesn't have the same limitation against speaking publicly in favor of a measure. But Reisner is publicly questioning the accuracy of the police union's official statement that "if the measure does not pass, the assessment would not be renewed, resulting in a decrease of staffing and services."
If the levy does not pass, the police employees say that essential 911 dispatching services would be paid from the general Gladstone police budget, which will impact additional services, but Reisner said that city councilors can always decide to prevent any impact to the department by shoring up the shortfall with other revenue sources.
Jolley acknowledged that it's the City Council's decision on how much money to allocate to various departments from the general fund.
"Why then isn't City Council asking people for administration?" Reisner asked. "And the answer is that people wouldn't vote for it, so the chief just made made my point for me."
If more funding is needed for police, Reisner would like the city to impose a vehicle-transaction fee on all the car dealerships within Gladstone. Blessing would like Gladstone's fire department to return to a "proud, efficient and cost-effective volunteer organization."
If either or both of the levies fail, the city could ask voters again to reauthorize a levy in next May's election, prior to the June 2019 expiration of the tax rates.