Public safety assessment, operating levy on table to make up deficit in proposed budget

A new fee may still be in Sandy's future after the city budget committee moved Monday, May 6, to amend the proposed budget to fund two more police officer positions.

When initially ironing out the proposed budget, city administrators planned to not fund hiring for the vacant traffic officer and police lieutenant positions this biennium. With attempting to pay salaries for those two officers, and other expenses, the police budget was originally at a shortage of $444,000.

So city administrators opted to cap staff at the current 17 personnel and to transfer the additional $1 million in new revenue projected for the general fund to the department to balance the budget.

City Manager Jordan Wheeler told The Post then that "We're trying to make up for as much as possible (without) impacting other departments."

The May 6 motion directed staff to find the funds to hire the traffic officer for two years, effective July 1, 2019, and the lieutenant officer for one year of the biennium, effective July 1, 2020. Committee Chairman and City Councilor John Hamblin also amended the motion to direct staff to fund the positions with outside funding sources only, not by taking from already tight departmental budgets.

On May 20, staff will bring back funding source options to the committee. To hire the two police officers, the city needs to find $370,000.

Wheeler said he'll be presenting a public safety fee, an option explored by the council in the past, and an operating levy. "The most feasible (option) is implementing a fee," Wheeler noted.

"The hard part with an operating levy is it has to go out to voters before it can be implemented," city Finance Director Tyler Deems added, making it a less immediate fix.

The public safety fee, Wheeler explained, if implemented at a flat rate could cost ratepayers an additional $4 to $5 a month.

In past discussions amongst councilors on a fee, Councilor Laurie Smallwood and Mayor Stan Pulliam have spoken against further expenses to ratepayers.

"People are throwing out the utility fee," Pulliam said in a March 13 meeting about the impending closure of the Olin Y. Bignall Aquatic Center and funding sources for future operations of the pool. "We can't discriminate with the utility fee. We have citizens in our community that have to pay this utility fee just to run their water and to get their electricity. We can't say 'if you're of this level of income you pay this fee or if you're of this level of income you pay this fee.' And we're balancing all of this with the knowledge of what's coming down the road."

On May 6, however, Pulliam and Smallwood were among the eight members of the budget committee to push the motion for hiring those two officers at a $370,000 expense. "If we're going to have to go down the path of a fee, we need to talk about why we're doing it," Pulliam told The Post last week. "I don't know if there's a more important core function of our city than to provide a safe environment for our citizens."

Pulliam added that during the discussion around closing the pool, "a fee was a harder sell because of where it landed in the city's (overall)list of priorities."

"Less than 10% of our residents utilize our pool, whereas at some point about 100% of our citizens come in contact with the police department. The other reason I favor a public safety fee is that as our community grows and gets more citizens, so does our funding, which allows our police department to continue to expand our police force to fit our growing community."

Wheeler noted that "councilors are interested in looking at assistance programs for (residents) on a fixed income."

There will be a public hearing about whichever funding option the Council chooses to move forward with. If a fee is implemented, it could appear on your bill as soon as July 25.

The next meeting on May 20 is open to the public, as is the June 3 meeting scheduled for the Council to adopt the new budget.

"I was excited by this biennium's budget," Pulliam said. "I think we're going to address some concerns the community had."

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