Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Voters deserve shot at OKing county levy

August 20, 2013

The Polk County Board of Commissioners did the right thing last week when it decided to move forward and place a four-year public safety levy on the November ballot.

Now the voters of Polk County will decide whether restoring services to law enforcement departments that have been gutted by recent budget reductions are a priority to them.

No one likes the sound of tax increases, and that likely will be the single determining factor in whether this levy is approved on Nov. 5. One thing is certain: There is little debating the fact that our county's various law enforcement agencies, from the sheriff's department to the district attorney's office to community corrections, are hurting for funding right now.

If approved by voters, the measure would levy 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on properties for four years. The owner of a home assessed at $150,000 would pay an additional $90 per year, or $7.50 per month; a home assessed at $200,000 would pay $120 more per year.

As reported by Jolene Guzman in today's Itemizer-Observer (see story, Page 1A), the objective with the levy that would bring in approximately $3 million annually over four years starting in 2014 is to restore positions and services in the county's four public safety departments: the sheriff's office (including the jail and court security), district attorney's office, community corrections and the juvenile system.

"Polk County's public safety system is at a point where basic services are not being provided due to budgetary shortfalls primarily caused by the reduction/loss of federal timber payments," read a summary of the levy approved by the board. "Without an infusion of property tax revenue, the funding allocated to public safety will continue to diminish, causing a further reduction in services."

The loss of federal timber payments to counties is the single largest factor that has hurt county law enforcement budgets in recent years. Those payments received by Polk County alone have gone from more than $1.9 million in 2008-09 to $760,000 in 2012-13. The federal payments expired in 2013-14, and hopes for a renewal are slim.

So, voters will now have the say on whether they are willing to pay to restore key elements of Polk County's law enforcement programs. The job of convincing taxpayers and residents of the need will be the easy part. Convincing taxpayers and residents to pay more taxes in our ongoing poor economy will be the challenge.