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City officials say voter approval is needed to keep officers and maintain vehicles.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - The King City Police Department is anticipating a Nov. 5 vote on a public safety levy.In King City, recent history shows citizens are willing to open their wallets to help the local police department.

A police levy first passed in 2008. Then in 2014, voters, by an overwhelming margin, approved a renewal of a police services local option levy. The 2014 measure had several goals, including maintaining police services at their current level and retaining experienced officers.

Jumping ahead to 2019, King City voters in November will face yet another renewal of a local option levy for police and public safety.

The 2014 levy will expire in June of next year. If voters give their approval for a renewed levy this November, the cost for citizens will be 63 cents per $1,000 (up from 55 cents) of assessed valuation for five years, beginning July 2020.

As with the 2014 measure, the upcoming levy would maintain the department at its current level. A renewed levy would help in other ways, city officials say, such as with office retention, fleet maintenance and state-mandated social media archiving.

You might say it's a no-frills levy, and City Manager Mike Weston pointed out at a recent King City City Council meeting that the city is limited in what it can provide the police department financially.

"Our budget is so constrained, as it is," Weston said in August. "We end up cutting body cameras. We end up cutting computers. We end up cutting the things we really need to function. It's just a function of what we are as a small city."

Weston provided other examples to Mayor Ken Gibson and council members.

"We already have officers 'soloing,' essentially out there by themselves," Weston said, noting that most cities have more than one officer at a given time. "We've cut everything to the bare-bones. As a small city, we have to wear a lot of hats and function with what we have."

Police Chief Ernie Happala told the council that with a smaller staff, the police department eats through the overtime budget.

Then there are unexpected costs with an older fleet of police vehicles. For instance, an engine went out on one vehicle, at a cost of $8,000.

The department also faces increased costs associated with the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency, or WCCCA. That agency, Happala said, dispatches all emergency and non-emergency calls for 10 police agencies and six fire agencies.

The police department faces other challenges, including an increase in mental health calls.

"We've also seen a major increase, over just the last year, in the number of mental health calls," Weston told the council. "Those aren't necessarily crime, but they are calls out that we have to deal with."

Happala added that from July 2018 to July 2019, the police received 200 calls from a particular neighborhood. A majority of those calls had mental health as an underlying cause.

"That's just a chronic use of our time," Happala said. "It's something that just continues, and it's not getting any better."

Gibson describes the purpose of the levy as "purely to keep pace with rising costs of doing the work that we must do to keep our community safe."

Gibson is proud of King City's little police department. On its force are the chief, a lieutenant and four full-time officers. Along with two part-time employees, there is also a support staffer who works for the municipal court and handles court records. A chaplain also serves the agency.

As of early September, one employee is on a 15-month military deployment, causing a part-time officer to move to full time.

"I think they have a reputation of being a caring police force — there to help as much as to enforce," Gibson said. "I think that's a great reputation for a police department to have."

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