A vote may be on the horizon for Tumwater residents to increase property taxes to fund fire and public safety, including facility and equipment upgrades and hiring. The Tumwater City Council is holding a public hearing tonight on the proposed increase and could approve the ordinance after discussion, one of the final steps before the levy appears on the August primary. If successful, the new rate would start next year in the form of a $155 tax increase for a house valued at $250,000.
A cramped police station, low staffing for night patrols, and aging fire equipment and sub-par response times make the tax increase necessary, Mayor Pete Kmet said.
“I know times are tough for folks out there, but we’re asking for $13 (more) a month for a pretty significant increase in service and to structures,” he said. “We know that our service has been degrading over time.”
If approved, the levy would raise $1.44 million in 2012 and would allow the city to:
• Hire three firefighters to begin staffing the North End Station. Kmet said the station has been mostly vacant the past few years and the new hires wouldn’t provide full staffing. But with new funding and revenue from recent annexations, the city hopes to staff it about one-third of the time. Kmet added that the city has been unable to meet fire response time goals about 50 percent of the time.
• Hire two patrol officers and a school resource officer. The two patrol officers would supplement nighttime staffing, where the department is usually down to two officers. In 2010, Tumwater had 1.4 officers per 1,000 residents, below generally recognized standards.
• Construct a 5,000-square-foot expansion to the police station wing of City Hall. Money would also be used to remodel the current police station, including its own heating system.
• Set up a fund to purchase and replace aging fire trucks.
According to City Administrator John Doan, the city would hire the firefighters and two police officers next year, start construction of the police station and purchase of one fire truck. In 2013, the police station expansion would wrap up and the third police officer would be hired.
Doan, pointing to a recent public survey that asked Tumwater residents about their priorities, said marks for police and fire services were highly favorable. A citizen task force also met several times to gather public input on funding options and priorities.
“There’s a lot of things we could do,” Doan said. “Clearly, the answer was better police and fire service.”
The city must go to voters because the increase is more than the 1 percent annual bump allowed by law. It is the first time Tumwater has asked voters for a levy lift, Doan said. If approved, the revenue increase would be permanent and tied to inflation for the first six years and then to the 1 percent cap thereafter.
Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/outsideoly