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Mailing from McCleary mayor urges support of tax hike

McCleary Mayor Gary Dent has sent a letter to voters in McCleary, alleging that if the city contracts out services to the Sheriff’s Office, the city will see an increase in crime and drug activity and references the danger the city may face if there was a school shooting.

“The real issue is not money,” Dent says in the letter. “It’s about the amount of police protection, presence and response time issues. … Loss of our ‘local’ police department will result in the increase of drug houses, the use of drugs, potential robberies, break-ins and violence. What if a gunman or gunmen entered our local school and started shooting? What of the same chance in a local business or private home?”

McCleary residents have two property tax measures on the ballot to benefit the local police force. Although Dent lambastes the option of contracting out police services with the county sheriff, it was Dent, himself, who suggested it was an option as the city’s finances were in trouble. Dent laid off a police officer and a police clerk in January and said he may have to completely eliminate the department and contract services if voters don’t approve a property tax hike.

FORUM

Meantime, since Dent canceled a planned election forum this month, a number of McCleary residents have taken it upon themselves to organize their own community forum to talk about property taxes on the August ballot.

The new forum is slated for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, July 17 at the McCleary VFW at 158 Summit Road N. in McCleary. City Council members and local police have been invited to share their perspective and the public is invited to attend and ask questions.

Dent said that a forum conducted last month didn’t go the way he had wanted with several in the crowd who “didn’t behave in a civil manner.” Dent chided Councilman Brent Schiller and Jeff Catterlin, whom he called “the minority” for getting the crowd “riled up.”

Dent’s letter sent to the voters also blames the two council members for the city’s financial mess.

“This ‘problem’ has been created in large part by a minority of two on the city council, one of whom may have a conflict of interest since his son is a well-paid city employee,” Dent writes.

But, public records turned over by the city to The Vidette show it’s Dent who introduced a budget that laid off a police officer and a police clerk, although the council did approve the budget.

The budget cuts came about after former public works director Nick Bird called into question thousands of dollars that Dent had transferred from the city’s dedicated power fund to the general fund. Dent had declared the funds no longer needed despite millions of dollars in power infrastructure projects that still need to be done and, in doing so, Dent avoided having to seek voter approval to increase taxes. Records show that Dent started backing off those proposals after Bird kept asking questions — which likely cost Bird his job with the city, although, he found another job with the city of Ocean Shores. And Catterlin says that his son is employed with the city — but had that post five years before Catterlin was ever elected and says there has never been a conflict of interest.

“On my own accord, and the record will show, that whenever contract negotiations have come up between Light & Power and the city, I have excluded myself from voting, to avoid a conflict of interest,” Catterlin told The Vidette. “You see, to the mayor it is NOT a conflict of interest as long as I agree with his policies, but when I take an opposing view, then suddenly then it IS a conflict. Do you , as voting, tax paying, residents, want leaders on this council who question, investigate, and work for solutions? Or, ones who sit obediently and follow their masters’ orders?”

As a direct message to Dent, Catterlin adds, “Last Friday and Saturday, I lost count of how many phone calls I got from people who were fuming mad at Gary Dent after receiving this letter. Some people I had never met, and some who even told me they had planned on voting ‘yes’ on the levy, but now are voting “no.” I can’t write some of the profane adjectives here that residents are now using to describe our mayor. Mayor, when you cancelled the second city levy meeting, you shot yourself in the foot, and when you mailed out this letter, you shot yourself in the other foot. Frankly, I am surprised you can still walk.”

The McCleary City Council is asking for voters to consider a levy lid lift that would garner an extra $62,000 a year for the next six years; as well as a dedicated property tax levy of $110,000 that would just be for one year.

The M&O levy for police protection would increase taxes by an additional $1.14 per thousand of a property’s assessed value. That means an extra $114 on a $100,000 home. This measure would need a 60 percent voter approval to pass.

The levy lid lift would raise the city’s property tax levy from the current $2.56 per thousand of a property’s assessed value to $3.18 per thousand.

That’s an extra $62 on a $100,000 home. The levy lid lift would just require a simple majority vote of 50 percent-plus-one-vote for approval.

That means if voters approve both measures, it’d be an extra $176 that they would be paying in property taxes to the city next year.

Dent’s letter asks voters to approve the levy lid lift, but says he does not support the levy.

“The real question to cut your McCleary police coverage from 118+ a week to an unguarenteed (sic) 40 hours a week with the sheriff,” the letter states. “Plus, response times for police help from the sheriff would take longer to arrive on scene in many instances.”

Officials with the Sheriff’s Office have said they’re willing to give a contract to McCleary for whatever amountof coverage they need. The city could pay for a guaranteed 40 hours a week of coverage for $110,000. That’s what Oakville does. For 120 hours, it could cost in the neighborhood of $330,000, using those same figures.

McCleary has a law enforcement budget of $533,820, down from the $646,061 budgeted in 2013. Some of the budget pays for fixed costs such as the courts and prosecution and public defenders and retirement pensions.

The letter emphasizes that the mailing was not paid for by public dollars, although it doesn’t say who paid for it, either.

Ballots were expected to be sent out on Wednesday. The primary election is August 5.