Friday, December 06, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
October 15, 2013
FALLS CITY -- For Falls City, the county's only incorporated city without its own police force, the question of supporting -- or not supporting -- Polk County's public safety levy has more at stake.
The Falls City City Council contemplated putting its collective and official support behind the levy last week, but ultimately declined to do so.
The four-year, 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value tax levy would go to support the county public safety departments, including the sheriff's office, which has jurisdiction in Falls City.
Mayor Amy Houghtaling and two councilors, Barbara Spencer and John Volkmann, however, did publicly pledge their support after Polk County Sheriff Bob Wolfe addressed the council at its meeting Thursday.
The decision didn't come quickly or easily for them.
"Sheriff Wolfe and I have had candid conversations about the reputation of the Polk County Sheriff's (Office) here in Falls City, so he knows a lot about what a lot of our citizens think -- `They don't respond,' `They don't care,'" Houghtaling said. "But (City Administrator) Amber (Mathiesen) and I have been working really hard with Sheriff Wolfe and communicating with different deputies to try to make a difference here.
"I have definitely seen a difference," she added.
Wolfe asked for the council's support, saying the levy would increase patrols and, therefore, service to the city. He noted the public safety departments have suffered a significant decrease in staffing in the last five years as federal timber payments began to decline.
The impact of that didn't go unnoticed in Falls City.
"I believe that Falls City lost quite a bit of coverage five years ago when timber money first went away, so I'm just wondering ... would the coverage for Falls City go back to what it was?" Spencer asked.
Wolfe said the levy won't quite bring staffing up to peak levels.
"It won't get us back to where we were, but it does get us back to where we were workable," he said.
"We are not in a vacuum in this city," Spencer said in response. "There are certain things I believe in taxes for, (such as) education and public safety."
Volkmann agreed, although he expressed dismay at frequent tax increases for what he considers "basic services." He said he's lived in Falls City long enough to understand what happens if adequate law enforcement isn't present.
Houghtaling said she is concerned other county programs the city relies on will lose funding if law enforcement takes priority.
"I feel personally that I as mayor would like to endorse it," Houghtaling said. "I would be happy if you guys as council (would) and we could all endorse it together, but as mayor I feel like I'm going to."
Even with the mayor and two councilors expressing support, no motion was made to endorse the levy as a council.
Councilor Terry Ungricht said later in the meeting that he was "a fence sitter."
"I'm thinking on the levy, but I don't know," he said.