Carnation voters have rejected an almost 50 percent property tax increase in the Nov. 8 election, leaving their city council members wondering what exactly the community wants.
Proposition 1, a nearly 50 percent increase in the city’s property tax rate to be designated for police services, failed the Nov. 8 election by 38 votes, 266 to 228. It’s the widest margin of failure for the issue that voters have decided three times now; in 2008, it failed by 35 votes, 402-367, and in 2009, it failed by 23, 246 to 223. Yet the voter turnout was only about half of the city’s 976 registered voters.
Following the election, the council had to consider a 2012 budget that reduced police services by $90,000, or the equivalent of one full-time officer.
Councilman Mike Flowers said at the council’s Nov. 15 budget discussion that the group had never really discussed the possibility of cutting the police, which would result in only one officer on patrol at any given time, and no round-the-clock coverage. He proposed delaying the budget adoption until the council had more time to talk about their situation, and any possible alternatives to a service reduction, which he opposed.
“I don’t think we should be cutting police services… that’s not how I’m interpreting the results,” he said. He spoke with voters, including opponents, he said, and “from what I’ve been hearing… it was not a ‘cut police services no’ … it was that they wanted the monies used differently than what we’ve been doing.”
Councilman Fred Bereswill said he’d also talked to voters, and gotten a different impression.
“I’ve had input, and people said, ‘I don’t care if we have no police department, period.’ It had nothing to do with police, they just didn’t want to pay any more money,” he said.
Flowers’ proposal was to make a concerted effort at finding out what the community residents want in their city, but he didn’t know what shape that might take. He noted that police services are always an important item in community survey responses, however. Bereswill then pointed out that less than 100 people responded to each the city’s previous surveys.
Councilman Jim Berger and Mayor Lee Grumman agreed that the council should further discuss the implications of a police services reduction before adopting the budget, but both were skeptical that they could find either money in the budget or public support for the rising cost of their current police contract.
“We were very clear in our messaging to the voters this go-round that our budget is bare-bones,” said Berger. “We’ve cut 200 and some odd thousand dollars out of the budget over the past couple years, we’re down to pretty much nothing, and over the next six years — this is a six-year plan — we need this money to fund the police department.”
Grumman said, “My biggest concern is maybe we could find some money for the next year or two… but it’s the years further out that are going to be the big problem.”
For 2012, the police contract is estimated to cost the city $512,000, if no reduction is made. Proposition 1 would have yielded about $90,000 annually for the next six years, and only about $17,000 of that is needed to maintain police services at the current level for 2012. However, in successive years, the costs are estimated to at least double annually. The levy amount set in Proposition 1 would have accounted for the amount needed by the end of the levy.
The proposed 2012 budget is about $1.1 million, with no increases in spending, except for law enforcement.
Flowers said “I think there’s money there for the next year or two, to pay for any anticipated increases that we’ve estimated through our police services analysis.”
He proposed to re-examine the budget for additional funds that could be directed to the police contract, and council members were dubious, but agreed.
“I’m willing to look at funding police services, but I’m also reluctant to cut anything else,” Berger said.
City Manager Ken Carter isn’t sure what else can be cut. He said a close look at the budget might yield small amounts “here and there,” but “I think we’ve pretty well cut everything….We didn’t put a Sanican in Memorial Park in the summer (because) it’s $400. It’s down to that level of saying we’ve already cut.”
Carnation voters also re-elected Grumman and Bereswill to their council seats and elected Erin Chamberlain to replace outgoing councilman Stuart Lisk. All candidates ran unopposed.
The next City Council meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 6, 7 p.m. at the City Hall. The council has until Dec. 13 to adopt the budget. For more information visit the city’s website at www.carnationwa.gov.