City to Gauge Voter Support for Lower Levy Rate

Tigard Police

The city plans to conduct a second survey this month to gauge voter support for a public safety levy that would add about $90 annually to the average property tax bill in Tigard for five years.

A previous survey of 300 Tigard voters done in October found that support for a levy rate of 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value was “low and soft.” The new survey, planned for the first two weeks of December, will seek feedback on a levy rate of 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The City Council arrived at the new rate during its Nov. 12 meeting.

The levy, which the council wants on the May 2020 ballot, would pay for 10 new sworn officers, including eight patrol officers and two with special training for working with the city’s homeless population, de-escalation training for all sworn officers and additional support staff.

The Tigard Police Department has 85 full-time employees; 69 of those are sworn officers. Adding the new patrol officers would increase staffing levels by one officer per shift for a total of four to five officers per shift. Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine told the council that in October nearly half of shifts were staffed at minimum levels of three to four officers.

During the meeting, Finance Director Toby LaFrance presented new cost assumptions that included a suggested levy rate of 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. LaFrance told the council that the revised assumptions were the result of staff “sharpening our pencils and doing this bottom-up approach – saving some money by being a little less conservative on our revenue forecast.”

The 36 cent figure included 3 cents that would go to the city’s safe routes to school program. To make the levy more palatable to voters, the council decided to remove that funding from the levy to arrive at the rate of 33 cents.

Council President John Goodhouse suggested a 22 cent levy that would remove funding for new support staff and the safe routes program and only pay for the direct cost of hiring 10 new officers and the de-escalation training. Mayor Jason Snider indicated that he also supported a “barebones” approach.

However, Councilor Heidi Lueb, who ultimately suggested the levy rate of 33 cents, pushed back against the idea of cutting new support staff out of the levy rate.

“I think an additional 10 officers is too big of an amount to add to the department and to the city without also including support staff in order to make them successful,” she said. “I think it’s setting the department up for future failure.”

Snider floated the idea of a 29 cent rate, saying that it “sounds better than anything with a three.” That rate would have reduced the amount of support staff funded by the levy.

“It’s completely political,” he said of the suggestion.

Again, Lueb pushed back.

“I think it’s unreasonable to continue to ask the city to do more and more and more with less money and support,” she said.

Snider said he agreed with that sentiment but, he added, “If the levy doesn’t pass, we’ll be doing even more of that.”