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City-funded poll finds 59% would say yes to levy that bolsters police, fire, homeless services

PMG FILE PHOTO - Gresham voters want to fund police and fire services. A city of Gresham poll has backed up what has been called for during marches and packed council chambers these past months — voters are finally ready to approve a public safety levy to better support police and fire, with some caveats.

According to a poll shared with Gresham City Council Tuesday, Nov. 15, 59% of Gresham voters would say yes to a levy after learning more about what it would entail — up from the 52.7% approval on initial reaction. After learning more, 31.7% would still vote no, while 9.3% remain unsure.

Those results, a far cry from a negative response that has been continuously shouted by Gresham residents, most recently in a public safety levy poll conducted in June, inspired enough confidence amongst city leadership to move forward with putting together a funding ask that will likely appear on ballots during the May 2023 election.

The poll was conducted by Probolsky Research. More than 44% of respondents lived in the community more than 20 years, the majority lived in Southeast Gresham, and 69% described themselves as white/Caucasian.

Potential voters became more favorable toward the potential levy upon learning of its scope. The levy would support more than just hiring new officers for an understaffed Gresham Police Department. The city wants to create a new service model when it comes to homelessness and mental health crisis and avoid any layoffs by cutting into a budget deficit.

The scope of a public safety levy would be to hire more police officers and civilian police positions; bring on more firefighters and deputy fire marshals; expand the Gresham Homeless Services Team to respond on evenings and weekends; and form a Crisis Response Team that includes case managers, nurses, clinicians, along with a Fire Mobile Integrated Health and Police Behavioral Health Team.

The hope is passing a public safety levy will undue the financial damage caused by voters approving property tax limitations in 1990 that has hamstrung the city for decades. Before the vote property taxes accounted for 100% of public safety services, with the city getting 24 cents of every $1 paid.

While other similarly sized municipalities, like Hillsboro, have robust, healthy general funds, Gresham has had to pay for public safety in a piecemeal fashion. Property taxes only foot about 40% of the bill, the rest is made up by the ongoing Police Fire and Parks Fee, which was doubled during COVID to $15 per month for single-family households, multifamily property owners and businesses, as well as with one-time influxes of cash from sources like the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Gresham voters have shown a decided lack of appetite when it comes to increases in their tax bills, shooting down several potential levies in the past decades.

The results of the poll don't guarantee it will show up in the spring, and the planned uses of the funds may change following further council direction.

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