The North Plains City Council is weighing options for a local option levy to fund expanded police services in the city.
North Plains switched in 2017 from having a small city-funded police force to using deputies provided by the Washington County Sheriff's Office. While the city has previously funded police services through a levy, this would be the first that pays for the county-provided patrols.
North Plains recently approved a five-year contract extension for that agreement with the Sheriff's Office, though the new levy rate would pay for around-the-clock patrols.
"The purpose of the local option levy to ease the burden on the general fund for police services and to guarantee 24/7 law enforcement coverage," said North Plains finance director Bill Reid during an Aug. 1 meeting.
During that discussion, officials painted the levy's passage as crucial for the future growth of North Plains — which is hoping to expand its urban growth boundary (UGB) in the near future.
City Manager Andy Varner said North Plains has had to periodically dip into the water fund to help pay for overtime for police patrols. He told the council that the levy would help get the city on "more stable financial footing" to fund expanded patrols and other city projects in the future.
Drawing from the water fund is depleting North Plains' financial reserves, which are intended to go toward infrastructure projects and future capital improvement, Reid said. He said passing a levy is key to building up that reserve instead of using it to subsidize police patrols.
"The long-term fiscal solution for this city is to grow its non-residential tax-base," Reid said. "The only way to do that is with the UGB expansion and getting businesses moving here. But we have to provide the spine, main infrastructure of utilities to make land ready for development for employers to come here."
The water fund dollars that are being eaten up elsewhere, he said, should instead be used as a financial reserve to go out for construction bonds that make future investment possible.
The levy options presented before the council range from $1.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $2.15 per $1,000. Depending on which rate is decided on, it would either fully fund the extra costs of 24-hour patrols, or it would at least reduce the amount of general fund dollars that are needed for that service.
Officials said the savings provided by the levy would help free up general fund dollars to go towards North Plains' parks department.
While North Plains doesn't currently fund services through a local option levy, voters approved a similar levy in 2000 and 2005. Those amounts were for 56 cents per $1,000 and 74 cents per $1,000, respectively.
Any levy would need to be approved by voters during the upcoming election to be enacted. The City Council has not yet decided whether to refer the question to voters, though the general election ballot deadline is Aug. 19.
Rather than holding a November vote, the council may opt to pursue the levy during the May 2023 election instead.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.