public safety taxes candidate question

Candidate Question: Property Tax Increase for Public Safety

in Candidate Corner/Featured/Government and Politics/Public Safety

The Liberty Lake Gazette asked all 10 candidates the following question at the same time via email. The candidate responses are in the order they replied. Click on a candidate name to view their full profile.

This question came from a Liberty Lake Gazette reader.

Our LLPD has been consistently understaffed. Property Taxes were increased 1% last year in an effort to help increase the revenues used to fund Public Safety.  Do you support a 1% increase in property taxes in 2020 to continue to help bring up LLPD staffing levels?

Cris Kaminskas campaign photo
Cris Kaminskas

The number one priority in our city, not only for the council, but for our residents, visitors, and businesses, should be Public Safety. It is for me. Yes, I would support a 1% increase for this reason only.

The 2019 budget projected Property Tax Revenue to be $2,200,000 in 2019. Here is the breakdown of where it goes:

  • $514K to the Library – governed by ordinance 119A
  • $1.86M to the LLPD

The problem is that the LLPD 2019 budget for 2019 is $2.4M – there is a gap of $540K. I expect this gap to continue to grow as we should have one officer for every 1,000 residents.

When I first started as a council member, I was totally opposed to raising property taxes. That was before I fully understood that a 1% increase is an increase on the total collected from the city, NOT a 1% increase on what the individual home owner is paying and NOT a 1% increase on the rate per $1K valuation of the home. For example, a 1% increase from 2018 to 2019 resulted in the following:

  • $24,062 increased property tax revenue
  • Decrease in the rate per $1K assessed valuation from $1.59/K to $1.54/K

I have asked multiple times during past budget seasons to officially designate, by ordinance, that property taxes must go to the LLPD budget. We must make it clear to our residents and to current and future leadership that property taxes are to be solely used for these purposes.

Our LLPD has been consistently understaffed. Property Taxes were increased 1% last year in an effort to help increase the revenues used to fund Public Safety.  Do you support a 1% increase in property taxes in 2020 to continue to help bring up LLPD staffing levels?

Holly Woodruff campaign photo
Holly Woodruff

Yes, as long as that revenue is dedicated to public safety. I don’t like to see an increase in taxes any more than the next person. I’m retired and on a fixed income. But the reality is that police departments across the country face a shortage of qualified and quality applicants. See https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/jun/18/police-staffing-shortage-sparks-recruit-bidding-wa/ for one of many articles on the difficulty of hiring and retaining officers. There are bidding wars, signing bonuses, and across-the-country recruitment expenses. With low unemployment, long term officers retiring, and the often negative feelings about police, younger people are looking elsewhere and finding less stressful work with stable hours. My niece’s husband is the police chief for Madeira, OH, a small community in the Cincinnati suburbs, and he faces similar hiring issues as Liberty Lake. It costs around $100,000 to fully outfit an officer with everything she or he needs in order to carry out the officer’s duties and maintain as much safety for all (including the officer) as possible, so the costs are not just in salaries and training. Liberty Lake is a beautiful community that is family friendly. It’s also relatively safe, and that’s thanks to a dedicated force for public safety (as well as neighbors looking out for one another). As the city continues to grow, public safety will be a key factor in maintaining the quality of life we all enjoy and expect. Our parks and trails mean little if we don’t feel safe using them. Thank you for the opportunity to answer this question.

Our LLPD has been consistently understaffed. Property Taxes were increased 1% last year in an effort to help increase the revenues used to fund Public Safety.  Do you support a 1% increase in property taxes in 2020 to continue to help bring up LLPD staffing levels?

Annie Kurtz campaign photo
Annie Kurtz

The short answer is no. I believe that our emergency responders should be first in line in any budget cycle—not last. There should never be a special assessment or increase in taxes required to fund the safety of our community.

The 2019 budget that was approved by the City Council states, “Public safety remains the highest priority for the city.” I would not support an increase in taxes until our community values and priorities align with our budget and it becomes clear that an increase is justified and necessary. It is imperative to me that we properly assess and evaluate ALL spending before adding new taxes.

Liberty Lake is growing rapidly and the City needs to work with the LLPD to understand and evaluate how to invest in an expanding police force to match the growth and safety needs of the City. This strategic planning needs to occur now—not reactively. Here are some of the questions I would ask to understand how the we can support and fully fund the LLPD in each budget cycle:

  1. If LLPD is fully staffed and funded, how much of the overtime budget line item can be moved or rolled over to fund future officers?
  2. What data or method is being used to determine staffing ratios of police officers to population/safety need for Liberty Lake?
  3. What are the 5 and 10 year plans for the LLPD to match staffing with projected growth of Liberty Lake? How many officers will be needed over the next 10 years, and what is the projected cost of the expansion of of the LLPD (personnel, support personnel, equipment, training, vehicles, building, etc.)
  4. What are our projected revenues for the next 5 -10 years for the City based on the known plan to expand to 25,000 people?
  5. What impact did the previous recession have on revenues for the City and how will Liberty Lake mitigate those risk factors to ensure funding of core priorities such as the LLPD?
  6. What priorities in the City budget need to be adjusted or removed in order for “safety to remain the highest priority for the city” and the budget to mirror and adequately fund that priority?
  7. What revenue streams need to be adjusted now or in the future in order to fully fund not only the LLPD, but other priorities of the City?

There is another part to this question. Properly staffing the LLPD isn’t solely dependent on another increase in property taxes. Staffing levels for law enforcement are a multifaceted issue across the nation. Here are the questions I would like answers to in order to understand how to effectively support the LLPD and the challenges they face in serving our community:

  1. Why is the LLPD not fully staffed? How much of it is a funding issue compared to an issue with an overall decline in law enforcement recruits?
  2. How can we make becoming a police officer in Liberty Lake a desirable position and increase retention rates of high caliber officers?
  3. What are the current barriers to recruitment and retention of officers in Liberty Lake?
  4. How will the LLPD address early attrition of officers?
  5. What are other jurisdictions of our size doing to increase retention of officers?
  6. Is the budgeted number of officers proportionate to the city population and safety needs?
  7. What is the long term plan to budget appropriately for fully staffed officers that match pace with the growth of the city from 11,000 to 25,000?
  8. How can the City support the LLPD as a whole and individual officers and their families to encourage applicants and retain officers within our community?

Our LLPD has been consistently understaffed. Property Taxes were increased 1% last year in an effort to help increase the revenues used to fund Public Safety.  Do you support a 1% increase in property taxes in 2020 to continue to help bring up LLPD staffing levels?

Phil Folyer campaign photo
Phil Folyer

My response would be no, I wouldn’t support another 1% increase this year. My reason for this answer is simple. I searched to find some comparable crime rates per population like our city with widely varying results. A fair measure for service needed is not going to be a 1 size fits all approach if compared to state & national crime rate trends. I would ask for an independent professional evaluation that is focused on our local record to determine further action. The city receives high safety rankings within the state on a regular basis. As we grow the needs will change, having open dialogue with our police chief will allow us to stay ahead of adjustments needed going forward.

Our LLPD has been consistently understaffed. Property Taxes were increased 1% last year in an effort to help increase the revenues used to fund Public Safety.  Do you support a 1% increase in property taxes in 2020 to continue to help bring up LLPD staffing levels?

Shane Brickner
State recommendations are one officer for every thousand people to meet the minimum needs of the community. We are currently at 1 officer per 1500 residents, which puts additional strain on our officers. We need more officers to help keep us one of the safest cities in the state. To provide the level of support and service that we need in this community, we will need to utilize that 1% property tax until we can at least meet the minimum recommendations of 1 officer per 1000 residents.

Having worked as a volunteer police officer with the city of Liberty Lake for over 12 years, I see firsthand the major impact it can have on our city to have only 1-2 officers covering the entire city, day in and day out. This adds undue strain to our officers, and in the long term is going to make it harder for us to retain current officers and attract new ones to our city. If an officer gets sick, gets injured, or wants to take time off, this leaves us with a staffing shortage that is unfair to our officers, and a safety concern for our city.

The current mayor’s focus is on hiring more administrative roles on the department, but my priority is to have more officers on the streets, protecting our city.

Our LLPD has been consistently understaffed. Property Taxes were increased 1% last year in an effort to help increase the revenues used to fund Public Safety.  Do you support a 1% increase in property taxes in 2020 to continue to help bring up LLPD staffing levels?

Police Department staffing should blend with the population, culture and crime within your community. Our police departments 6-year strategic plan does not have the city understaffed. We have been extremely effective to achieve a level of service and safety within our city. It’s confirmed by Liberty Lake’s recognition as the 5thsafest city in the State of Washington. If police staffing is based strictly on population, we have approximately (1) officer per 850 residents which is very comparable to our surrounding jurisdictions. We also have an agreement of support with the Sheriff for backup when more resources are needed. Over this past year, we incurred a turnover of officers related to career opportunities. We were fortunate to backfill them with a group of really talented men and women lateral officers. To address future openings, we are continuing to seek lateral officers.

I have consistently proposed in my Mayors Budget the 1% Property Tax increase given to Cities under State Law. Due to growth of our city, a 1% increase actually translates to a reduction in city tax. Our city tax of $1.592 per 1000 in 2018 fell to $1.5444 per 1000 in 2019. That is reduction of

5 cents or 3% for 2019 which the homeowner sees on his Property Tax bill!

It’s also important to see how we compare to our surrounding communities. In 2019 the City of Spokane tax rate for like services $1.66, City of Spokane Valley $1.74, City of Liberty Lake $1.55

Several years ago, City Council did not allow the 1% to move forward which cost the city $20,000 in revenue for that year. Unfortunately, that choice is compounded by time meaning the same amount of money is lost each year going forward ($ 60,000 three years later). As our law enforcement contract cost increases 2-5% annually by contract, forgoing the 1% doesn’t make sense!

Our LLPD has been consistently understaffed. Property Taxes were increased 1% last year in an effort to help increase the revenues used to fund Public Safety.  Do you support a 1% increase in property taxes in 2020 to continue to help bring up LLPD staffing levels?

Dg Garcia campaign photo
DG Garcia
I need to be clear when addressing this question. One of the most important aspects of any city—no, every city—is that of its ability to maintain a safe and secure community. Ensure that security should never be jeopardized or compromised. Our law enforcement department must always be sustained as effectively and efficiently as possible—the municipality must never fail to provide a solid police structure.

I do not support raising property taxes and do not find that it is the answer going forward to 2020.

Our local officials can utilize our general fund dollars in a way that would allow them to allocate funding related to law enforcement and the required/necessary needs outlined in the police departments 2018 – 2022 Strategic Plan. The council can decide solely to allocate additional dollars to continue to help bring up LLPD staffing levels, without raising the property tax.

Problems have answers—every issue has a solution. Don’t let the problem turn into a situation that burdens the very people you are supposed to protect. Governments must always look for ways that they can preserve their cities financially. Watch the spending habits and by all means, don’t use taxes as a way to get out of a situation because that is not necessarily what will occur. It may do more harm and not solve the problem any faster, if at all. And when municipalities go tax happy, there is no turning back. Put all our cards on the table, ask ourselves, would we do this to our families? But most of all, plan for the foreseen and unforeseeable—measure twice, cut once.


No response: Dan Dunne, Bob Moore, Tom Stanley

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