Tumwater property-tax hike on ballot

Tumwater - When Tumwater residents vote in the Aug. 16 primary election, a proposed property-tax increase to fund police and fire services will be waiting.

After hearing a presentation and support from several residents during public testimony, the Tumwater City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to put forward a proposal to voters that would amount to $155 in additional taxes annually on a $230,000 home and generate about $1.44 million in additional revenue for the city in 2012, said City Administrator John Doan.

“It doesn’t buy everything Tumwater could want; it is a reasonable and substantial step forward,” Doan said during his presentation to the council.

Here’s a look at what voters would be approving and some cost estimates:

 • Hiring three firefighters to begin staffing the North End Station. Staff reports show the annual cost for one firefighter is $110,000, plus $6,500 in start-up costs.

 • Hiring two patrol officers and a school resource officer. The two patrol officers would supplement nighttime staffing, when the department is usually down to two officers. Costs for officers vary, but for budgeting purposes, the city estimated $114,000 per officer, not including a vehicle.

 • Constructing a 5,000-square-foot expansion to the police station wing of City Hall. The city would also remodel the current police station. The city looked into several options for police facilities, with a comparable 6,000-square-foot expansion costing $3.61 million, according to staff reports.

 • Setting up a fund to purchase and replace aging fire engines. According to the city, one new engine costs about $500,000, with $100,000 in outfitting equipment.

The council heard from the chiefs of both the fire and police departments. Tumwater Police Chief John Stines said inadequate night staffing and limited holding cell and interview space puts his department in a bind.

“It’s creating a dangerous situation for our officers,” Stines said while discussing the shortfalls of having only two officers on the night shift.

Several members of a citizen task force spoke in favor of putting the proposition on the ballot, including Tumwater resident Paul Marchant. He spoke of seeing the condition of the police station and how it needs upgrades.

“For me, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “I saw it firsthand.”

Before voting, several council members voiced their support for getting the proposition on the ballot.

“The city had been pretty fortunate to have dedicated public safety despite the fact it is understaffed,” said Councilman Tom Oliva. “We can’t rely on luck as a business model much longer.”

If voters approve the increase, the city will hire the firefighters and two police officers next year. Construction also would begin at the police station and the city would purchase one of the engines, with delivery about one year later.