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Springfield continuesto study possible jail levy.

Byline: Elon Glucklich The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - The City Council likely will ask voters to pay about 9.4 percent more toward Springfield's police and jail property tax levy to prevent layoffs, as the city grapples with rising expenses that have forced it to rely more on taxpayer support.

For the second straight week, the City Council on Monday discussed a proposed ballot measure to extend the city's five-year police/jail tax levy this fall, and possibly to increase the tax levy rate for the third time in the past 11 years.

Springfield property owners currently pay $1.28 per $1,000 in property value to support the levy, which has provided tens of millions of dollars for police and municipal jail operations since Springfield voters first approved it in 2002. At $1.28, a home assessed at $200,000 pays $256 a year for the police levy, on top of the general property tax rate and the city's fire tax levy.

But city per-employee personnel expenses have steadily risen over the levy's lifetime - one of the main reasons that Springfield has repeatedly asked voters to pay an increased tax rate to cover personnel and other expenses funded by the levy.

Budget officials have said the city needs to consider increasing the police levy tax rate to $1.44 to avoid eliminating seven to nine jobs in the next year or so.

But on Monday, city finance director Bob Duey said a $1.42 tax rate could maintain the current level of police and jail services through the levy, citing about $100,000 in delinquent tax funds he discovered in the city's budget.

He said that a rate as low as $1.36 could maintain services if the city funded several police department positions out of its general fund instead of the levy.

Councilors tentatively agreed Monday to ask for a $1.40 per $1,000 levy.

At $1.40, the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 would pay $280 a year, or $24 more than under the current rate.

"I'd like the number to be just a bit lower" than what is required to fully fund levy services, Councilor Sean VanGordon said. At $1.40, it means if we did things a bit differently, we could keep everyone on the levy, and that would save a little bit of money for taxpayers."

At $1.28 per $1,000, the levy brings in about $5 million in the current fiscal year, and is projected to bring in $5.3 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, and about $5.8 million the following year, according to city documents.

But to cover rising police and jail expenses, the city needs $6.1 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, $6.8 million in the following fiscal year, and $7.1 million the year after that, documents show.

Councilors on Monday settled on the $1.40 rate after weighing whether to ask voters to continue the levy at its current rate and reduce services, or increase the tax to maintain services.

No councilor voiced support for extending the levy at its current $1.28 rate.

Councilor Joe Pishioneri said he was wary of going too far below the rate needed to fully fund the levy. "I'm willing to spend a few less pennies," Pishioneri said. "But I don't think it's reasonable to go to $1.36."

The discussion came ahead of a public hearing on the levy scheduled for June 19.

Although police and jail staffing has been flat in recent years, rising personnel expenses have driven up costs to the city, budget figures show. Those expenses include annual pay increases, health insurance premiums and big increases in payments into the state Public Employees Retirement System, including a major increase due in the coming fiscal year.

Springfield voters renewed the levy in 2006 and again in 2012, each time accepting higher tax assessment rates.

The first police/jail levy assessed a tax of 66 cents per $1,000 of a property's assessed value.

The city, with voter approval, increased the rate to $1.09 per $1,000 in 2006, and $1.28 per $1,000 in 2012.

If the levy rate were kept the same, tax revenue to the city still would increase by about 3 percent a year. That is because under state law, property assessments - and therefore property tax collections - increase by about that much each year.

But that wouldn't come close to filling the growing gap between revenue that the city collects through the levy and funds needed to keep staffing steady for the police department and municipal jail.

The gap has put the City Council in a position of either seeking an additional levy tax rate increase to cover the rising expenses, or cutting police and jail staff positions.

The levy pays for the jail's staff of 19, plus eight police officers, five dispatchers, five community service officers and four other staff, the city says.

The city's general permanent property tax pays for the rest of the police department staffing.

The council breaks for a two-month recess at the end of June and most likely will decide before the break whether to place an extension vote on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The levy will expire at the end of June 2018 if city voters do not approve its extension.

By putting the levy up for a vote in November, officials still could try to extend it in May 2018 if it failed in November.

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Title Annotation:Springfield Government; The City Council tentatively agrees to seek a ballot measure
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 6, 2017
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