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Budget panel conjures funds for police, fire.

Byline: CITY BEAT/EUGENE By Edward Russo The Register-Guard

It has a bland, bureaucratic name: the budget committee. But hot-button issues - law and order and public safety - define their just-completed work.

The 16-member budget advisory panel on Wednesday recommended $1.2 million in additional spending for Eugene's next budget, most of it for police and fire protection.

If the City Council agrees next month, the city eventually will have bike and foot patrol officers in downtown area neighborhoods and a fire engine at a fire station six months earlier than previously proposed.

Those and the other spending recommendations from the budget committee - made up of the eight city councilors and eight residents - were inspired in different ways.

Residents who live west of downtown, for example, urged the committee to give the police department more money so it can devote more officers to maintaining the law in Monroe Park, along Monroe Street between West 10th Avenue and Broadway.

Residents had asked in previous years for police patrols in the park, but they were told that the understaffed department had only enough officers to respond to emergencies.

This year, residents pleaded their case to the budget committee, telling members about drug use, prostitution and violence in the park. Some said children had to step over passed-out drug users, as well as watch out for hypodermic needles.

Residents followed up with other communications.

"My wife and I have lived in the Monroe Park neighborhood for 16 years and reside one block from the park," Garth McKay wrote committee members in an e-mail. "We love the neighborhood and the park, and frequently take walks through it and sit and read on the picnic benches. Last summer was the worst we've ever seen in the park. We have witnessed alcohol use, drug use, drug dealing, prostitution, fist fights, aggressive or threatening behavior, other criminal activity. In our opinion the park is out of control with criminal activity and we are no longer comfortable using the park."

The stories were effective.

Councilor Bonny Bettman, who represents the Monroe area, pushed for the extra police patrols. The committee ultimately voted 15-0 to recommend the funding, making it nearly certain that the council will approve it.

The extra money will be used for bicycle and foot patrol police officers in the Whiteaker, Jefferson Westside and downtown neighborhoods, said Budget Manager Kitty Murdoch.

The special deployment would last July-October of this year and May-September of next year, she said.

Committee members also recommended that the city spend an additional $674,000 so a fire engine and firefighters can return to the Valley River area fire station on Goodpasture Island Road six months earlier than scheduled.

The recommendation was offered by citizen member Mike Clark. Neighborhood groups, the firefighters' union and fire department managers all wanted to put a fire engine back at the station. The main question was when.

If the council agrees with the budget committee, the fire station will get the fire engine and crew on Jan. 1 instead of July 1. City Manager Dennis Taylor favored the later date to hold down costs in the next fiscal year.

Staffing at the station has been an issue for three years, ever since the city shifted the engine and its crew to the Santa Clara area.

Since then, an ambulance and firefighter-paramedics have been at the Valley River fire station, near Valley River Village. If the Valley River-based ambulance crew is away at a medical emergency or a fire breaks out, fire engines are dispatched to the area from the Sheldon, Santa Clara or downtown fire houses.

Deputy Fire Chief Matt Shuler said residents would benefit from having the fire engine back at the Valley River station.

"Anytime you add resources, service just gets better," he said.

Where would the new money come from? For the police funding, the city would borrow money from its telecommunications tax fund and use money from funded but yet-to-be filled jobs.

Most of the fire station money would come from a special reserve fund that was meant to protect the city against revenue shortfalls, plus $50,000 from the airport's marketing fund.

Other budget committee recommendations:

Hire a consultant to oversee recommendations intended to improve the police department. Cost: $35,000 in each of the next two years.

Start work on a Cultural Services Department comprehensive plan. Cost: $125,000 in each of the next two years.

Reduce swim fees to 2004 levels to see how that affects attendance and revenue.

Provide $30,000 in ongoing support for the Jacobs Gallery.

Send homes and businesses in the River Road/Santa Clara areas a city-funded newsletter.

Shift $50,000 to the neighborhood newsletter program.

Increase the percentage of dog license revenue dedicated to low-income companion animal spay and neuter vouchers each of the next three years.

Besides the eight city councilors, the budget committee members are:

Bruce Mulligan (chairman), Mike Clark, John Demboski, Terry McDonald, Bob Peters, Jana Rygas, Sherry Schaefers, and Mike Wolfe.

Edward Russo can be reached at 338-2359 or erusso@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 22, 2005
Words:842
Previous Article:FOR THE RECORD.
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