Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
January 30, 2013
DALLAS -- The citizen's committee studying the need for a levy to fund law enforcement in Polk County hasn't made its recommendation, but it's clear to the group that the county is facing a critical challenge.
"There is no light at the end of the tunnel," said committee member Bill Kluting at the group's first meeting Jan. 23. "We used the O&C (federal timber payment) money. ... We can almost guarantee it's not coming back. I don't want to see the county become a vacuum for criminals."
County officials formed the committee to investigate the need for a levy, how much to ask voters to consider approving and for how long, and when it might appear on the ballot.
The county is facing an $800,000 to $1 million shortage in 2013-14, according to Polk County Administrator Greg Hansen's latest estimates. That translates to having to eliminate eight to 10 positions in the upcoming budget.
Past reductions, plus those expected in 2013-14, will equal a 30-percent cut in staff since 2008-09.
"I put this (levy proposal) together because I've run out of options," Hansen said.
He said the county has stretched its employees as much as possible trying to maintain services and it's been lucky with extensions of federal timber payments.
County officials aren't counting on any more luck.
Sheriff Bob Wolfe said the proposed cuts will have an impact on more than just the affected departments.
"We are a critical component to the safety of Polk County," Wolfe said, referring to his office.
He noted the sheriff's office works with all agencies in the county and the Polk County Jail and District Attorney's Office serves all of the county.
District Attorney Aaron Felton said being forced to trim staff can foster efficiency. But after eliminating one prosecutor position in the current fiscal year and facing another cut in 2013-14, that's no longer true for his office.
"Having one less deputy DA wouldn't be a good thing for completing our mission," he said.
Hansen provided the committee with a list of possible levy amounts, ranging from 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on properties, which would raise about $490,000, to 60 cents per $1,000, raising $2.9 million.
He said the county wouldn't need to ask for money to replace all that was lost, but said the estimated staffing levels for 2013-14 wouldn't provide for current services.
"We are getting to the point where losing people is getting unhealthy," Hansen said. "We have probably already crossed that threshold."
While a recommendation hasn't been finalized, some committee members agreed with Hansen's assessment.
Retired Polk County judge Charles Luukinen said, much like with the bond that paid for building the jail, the county wouldn't be asking for anything special. He said the county would need the funding to provide basic services.
"We are out of `just in case money,'" Luukinen said. "We don't have any other choices. I'm sorry that we have to ask for more money, but we can't make it work anymore."
Just The Facts ...
Polk County law enforcement departments (Sheriff, District Attorney, Community Corrections and Juvenile) combined staffing levels (FTE):
2007-08 -- 108
2008-09 -- 109
2009-10 -- 104
2010-11 -- 99
2011-12 -- 92
2012-13 -- 84
Estimated 2013-14 -- 76
Estimated position cuts for 2013-14 in each department:
Sheriff's patrol -- 5
District Attorney, prosecution -- 1
District Attorney, support enforcement -- .55
Community Correction, community service -- .4
Juvenile -- .5 or a cut in number of beds rented in detention facilities for juvenile offenders.
When: Feb. 6, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Polk County Courthouse main conference room, 850 Main St. Dallas.
For more information: 503-623-8173.