Roy Police Department wants tax hike to ease budget

Staff writerOctober 22, 2013 

Roy police officer Dan Rozier says public safety resources are stretched thin in the city of about 800 people.

“It is challenging because we have many different aspects of law enforcement to deal with,” said Rozier, who with Police Chief Darwin Armitage are the department’s only full-time officers. They do it all – patrolling the city, completing investigations and maximizing resources with a budget that has been cut by 10 percent over the past year.

On Nov. 5, Roy residents will vote on a proposed one-tenth percent sales tax increase to help fund criminal justice and public safety. 

Rozier said the new revenue would ease the strain on the police department’s operating budget and directly benefit the public. 

The proposed measure would generate an estimated $12,000 of revenue, which Armitage said would help implement public safety initiatives and upgrade outdated equipment, among other changes to supplement department operations.

No statement was submitted to the voters pamphlet arguing against the measure.

As a result of deep cuts, Armitage said services have struggled to cover day-to-day expenses such as salaries and fuel costs; the department’s operating budget is down to $192,000 from about $202,000 a year ago.

The department also pays for contracts with South Sound 911 and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, which responds to calls during hours a Roy officer isn’t on duty.

Armitage said he sometimes feels like a starving college student trying to break away from a daily diet of ramen noodles.

“I’m scrimping and trying to save,” he said.

If the additional revenue is approved, Armitage said he hopes to implement a child identification system that would collect useful data if a child goes missing, as well as crosswalk improvements to increase safety for pedestrians. 

The department also plans to hire a part-time officer to supplement two current reserve officers. Passing the sales-tax hike would make it easier to allocate resources for the added position, he said.

The police force has a turbulent history dating back to 2006, when then-chief John Hawk retired under pressure and the Sheriff’s Department provided coverage for several months. In 2007, former Police Chief Kurt Ikemeier resigned after less than a year on the job. He was tasked with rebuilding the department after taking back its responsibilities from the county, but also was pressured to step down.

Ikemeier’s replacement, Pedro Rosario, was hired in the same year. A member of the Army Reserves, Rosario sometimes was away from the city because of his military duties and an officer was acting chief while he was gone. Rosario retired in 2011 after being absent for three years.

That left Roy without a chief for a year until Armitage was hired in May 2012.

Mayor Karen Yates said the chief has done a great job, bringing nearly three decades of experience from his former work in El Paso, Texas.

“He is a very knowledgeable and ethical man, and he is serving the city well,” she said. 

Before Armitage arrived, police officers were visible but not active in the community, something he says has improved during his tenure.

“We were so displaced for a while and transparency was not a common word,” Armitage said. “Over the last year and a half, people like what they see.”

He stressed that any improvements made if the new funds are approved would be visible in the city. The Police Department would add tangible products “so people can see where their tax dollars went,” he said. 

Rozier has been using an outdated, hand-me-down computer with a broken USB port. Approval of the tax increase would fix those types of problems, translating into improved operations and a safer community, he said.

“That would make the performance of our jobs much more efficient,” he said.

The proposal allows using revenue for various public safety purposes, including street safety, additional police staff hours and traffic signage. State law requires the proceeds to be split between the city and Pierce County. 

Yates said the department has worked to implement proactive policing, and this measure would help further that mission.

“It’s not enough money to do anything huge, but it helps to support the police department,” she said.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682

kari.plog@thenewstribune.com

@KariPlog

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