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What next for McCleary after police levies are rejected?

The residents of McCleary showed they are fed up with rising taxes and higher costs of living as voters rejected two propositions during the primary election that would have provided dedicated funding for the city’s police force.

“I don’t believe it is an anti-police vote, it is an anti-tax vote,” McCleary Mayor Gary Dent said.

However, some of the voters made clear in forums leading up to the election that they weren’t happy with police services, either.

Voters rejected Proposition 1, a full-on excess maintenance and operations levy, which would have generated an extra $110,000 for the next year, 120-297. The measure needed a 60 percent supermajority for approval, but only received 28.8 percent of the vote.

Proposition 2, a levy lid lift that would have generated $60,000 a year for the next six years, was rejected, 128-303. The lid lift needed just a simple majority to pass, but 70.3 percent of residents voted against the proposition.

Dent said he is just beginning to look at next year’s budget and is unsure if more cuts will need to be made as there may still be ways the city can afford to fund its police force.

Dent downplayed the potential cuts — a clear departure from his memo to the public last fall when he threatened to eliminate just about every aspect of city services if the voters didn’t approve a property tax levy.

“I am just beginning my assessment,” Dent said. “That is a process that will begin later this month and I will begin with my management staff in October.”

For McCleary Councilman Jeff Catterlin, the vote was a clear statement from the residents that they would like a change. Catterlin said he tried to gauge the public feeling about both propositions before the election by going door to door and he said most of the residents have very strong feelings against the measures.

“I had a very strong feeling that it was going to be very decisive,” Catterlin said. “We really have to look closely now at what are viable options.”

Catterlin said he believes the best option for McCleary is to contract services with the Sheriff’s Office. The city is currently paying $470,000 for its three-officer department, providing 118 hours of police protection. Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott gave a “ballpark estimate” last month to The Vidette that 40 hours of dedicated, on-the-street coverage would cost between $150,000 and $200,000 with the cost increasing based on the number of hours deputies are visible within the city limits.

“If we were able to go with the county, we could create a surplus and do some things to turn the city around and begin to ease the financial burden on the taxpayer,” Catterlin said. “To me, right now, this isn’t so much about replacing our police with the county. This is about getting good service for the right amount of money. I want to use this surplus to make things more affordable for people that live here. We have to create an environment where people want to live here and businesses want to open up here.”

While Catterlin said the vote was an accurate representation of the residents, Dent said he was disappointed in the turnout overall.

“I was surprised by the numbers, but the other issue is there are over 800 registered voters in town, which means more than half of them didn’t vote,” Dent said.

Rather than continue to look at the vote as a rejection, Catterlin said the city needs to see the response as a way to move forward by providing lower-cost police services and that could possibly create a surplus that may allow for lower water and sewer rates for residents.

“Some very good positive results can come out of this,” Catterlin said. “There are some people that are really down about the whole thing and they really should be celebrating because I think we can turn a corner now.”