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Carnation to run police-services bond measure

CARNATION - The City Council on Tuesday approved a ballot proposition for a levy to keep police service at its current level of two officers and one part-time chief.

Called a "police protection excess levy," the ballot measure will be for $324,000 to be spread over three years, at $108,000 each year. This will cost taxpayers 81 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property valuation. For a $200,000 home, it would cost the homeowner $162 a year to help fill in the gap in the police services budget.

The levy will run during the Sept. 18 primary election. In order to pass, 40 percent of the voters who turned out for last NovemberOs primary election must vote again on Sept. 18, and 60 percent of those votes must be yes votes.

"We will be able to provide police coverage at our existing level of service if it's adopted," City Manager Woody Edvalson said.

He explained that Carnation needs to run the levy because a federal grant that subsidized police services for three years runs out at the end of 2001. The $75,000-a-year grant was from former President ClintonOs plan, and it added an extra officer to Carnation's police force.

In addition to the federal grant, Carnation's yearly $15,000 stipend from the King County Sheriff's Office will run out. This fund totaled $45,000 for police cars and equipment given to King County in its contract with Carnation that started in 1999, and was paid to the city in three yearly installments.

"We have to replace $75,000 and $15,000 in revenues that we haven't had to fund in the three previous years," Edvalson said. "Then there's the added anticipated cost-of-living increase associated with police contracts that will also go through to the city. So all of that rolled together puts us at $108,000 [yearly] to recoup that money."

The city doesn't have the money to take in the difference in police service funds, so if the levy fails, Carnation could be down to one officer and a chief, or it could lose both and be covered by county officers in a flex-time agreement, like North Bend. But that option has a downside.

"There's an anticipated increase in [emergency] response times, and we'll have officers whose focus is not Carnation, so they may not be as in tune with the issues that the city has," Edvalson said.

He explained that cutting other services besides police to solve the money shortage won't work, because the city is providing all necessary services and has no "fat" in its budget. Even the city staff is down to bare bones, he said.

"We really spend minimal amounts on our parks and streets. Our water and refuse services are already in separate funds so their contribution to the general fund is minimal. In some respects, it really comes down to people. We either cut down the services or minimal staff that we have, or we ask the voters for a levy," Edvalson said.

"In our budget process we will be carefully looking at ways to save money in this coming year, but we don't have [areas] were we can say, The people can do without." You can't cut somebody like the planner or finance director and office staff. We only have one full and two part-time people; they all provide essential services to the city."In the past, Carnation successfully ran several police-service levies, even when the city had its own police department. But in 1999, another levy to be used for the year 2000 failed by just a few votes, which reduced the force from three officers to two. Because of the levy's failure, city officials didn't want to have to ask taxpayers to help again this year, but felt they had no choice.

"We're in, I would say, a bind. We knew it was coming in a sense," said Mayor Bob Patterson. "I feel I can safely say that we have no other options. Without the levy we cannot maintain the police force we [currently] have. We would very much like to increase our police force, but [the levy] is just to keep it as it is." If the levy fails, city officials plan to run it again in the November election.

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