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Guest Opinion: We deserve answers to questions on McCleary property tax levy

I took the opportunity to attend the public hearing on the upcoming election for the one-year dedicated property tax police levy of $110,000 and the six-year levy lid lift which is supposed to garner $62,000 annually. Unfortunately, with our property values decreasing, there is no way to know how much money will actually be coming in.

I brought questions to the meeting with me so I could get answers and make a decision.

I was disappointed by the agenda, or lack thereof, for the meeting.

I was under the mistaken impression the meeting would start with comments from our mayor and city council. Many of the people attending only know the information through word of mouth and would have benefited with some opening statements and facts. Instead, the meeting began with public comments and a very quiet council.

Many in the audience felt strongly one way or another but others, like me, wanted more information to make an informed decision come August.

I will be honest and say that I haven’t made up my mind yet. I had a list of questions and will share the information I was given. In the end I will sit down with this list, go over the pros and cons on both sides and decide. My decision will be made by what is most important to me personally and what I think is most important for my community. Hopefully, the majority of the town will do the same thing.

I prefaced my questions and comments with the following: Sentimentality and emotions will not balance a budget. Budgets are based on numbers. We need to make our decisions based on facts and try hard not to let personal feelings enter into this. That being said, when my mother’s Life Alert pendant called 911, Chief George Crumb was at her home in very short order. Fortunately, the call was an accident and she was fine. Nevertheless, it was nice to know that whether it was Chief Crumb or Officers Graham or Bunch, if something did happen to my mother, our officers know me and would know how to contact me at work. This is a very comforting feeling.

It costs approximately $470,000 to run our police department for a year. We have budgeted $360,000. Part of this budget, $63,000, supports two retired officers and their medical bills. This amount may increase if more medical care is needed. This was agreed to in the past and we have no control over it. I have heard a few comments about our officers being overpaid. I haven’t seen any officers driving expensive cars or living in mansions. If you want to know what our officers make, it is public knowledge and can be gotten with a written request to the city. I personally am not planning to do this because I feel confident they are not getting rich.

If we use the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office, the 40-hour-per-week coverage will cost approximately $175,000 to $200,000 annually. This is certainly a savings. Is it based on number of responses or a set rate? I don’t know.

Comments about the drug houses in McCleary and lack of action have been made. When someone finds a community with no drugs, I plan to move there. I know that at least two of the three officers raised families here and I’m sure they are just as concerned as the rest of us. When we only have three officers to give us forty hours of police coverage a week and take calls the rest of the time, it is very difficult to address everything. Yes, the drugs are very much a problem and I’m not making light of the subject. However, it is a difficult problem in all communities.

Councilman Brent Schiller asked at a recent council meeting what the contingency plan is if the levy fails. He asked it several times and I felt he never got an answer. Mayor Gary Dent told him he has some ideas but wasn’t going to share them at this time. Over the years, I have heard this answer from Mayor Dent a lot. Thank you Councilman Schiller for asking the question. I would have liked to have heard the answer.

If the levy lid lift passes, this money goes into the general fund. Mayor Dent reassured me after the meeting it would all go into supporting our police department. There is no legal requirement, however, that over the next six years the money will go specifically to the police department. This money can also be transferred into other funds with a shortfall and can be used to pay other bills. So if I vote to pass this levy, my money may not all go to the police department. This information brought several gasps from the audience.

When the council and mayor were asked what the plan is at the end of the year when the straight levy runs out, there were no answers. So, when I asked the council and mayor who supported the $110,000 levy, not a hand went up. Where did the idea for this levy come from? Maybe our Vidette editor has it in some of his past notes. I don’t remember.

If we have no local police department how does this affect homeowner’s insurance rates? One audience member said she has never been asked that question by an insurance company. However, insurance companies have actuary tables with this type of information. Helen Lake, our local real estate agent and long-time community member, said it would affect loans for homes and businesses. When we are trying to bring more people and businesses into town, this could be an issue. I encourage you to call your insurance company and ask if using the sheriff’s office instead of having our own police department could affect your rates.

The mayor mentioned a few times that next year the new police vehicle loans will be paid up. I asked how much the loan payments cost and was told they are $24,000 a year. This is more money saved, but, overall, a relatively small amount.

Several people spoke about response time from the county sheriff and from city police. Some had poor experiences and others good ones. The comments basically balanced out.

Our mayor decided unilaterally to cancel the next public hearing. I would encourage you, Mayor Dent, to keep your promise and have this meeting. No matter how many people attend, it is important to the ones who do. As for the meeting being “hijacked” as stated by the mayor in a recent Vidette article, I was there and did not see this happen. I did hear council members express their opinion one way or another. Yet, some only expressed them after being asked to do so by Helen Lake. We elected these officials to make decisions for us. If they don’t tell their opinions, then how do we know what they are doing? Mayor Dent also said in the same article that two council members, referring to Councilmen Catterlin and Schiller, got the crowd “riled up.” People are concerned and I didn’t see anyone “riled up” any more than they already were by the subject at hand. The city residents were, in my opinion, appropriate and respectful of the meeting. Some were passionate — but I feel that too is appropriate.

If Mayor Dent decides not to have that second meeting, the next city council meeting is 7 p.m., July 23. Come early, and sign up to speak during the public comments. That is what this agenda item is for. Ask questions, listen to answers and express your opinion. I would encourage you to bring your questions written down. You may end up crossing some off or adding more as you hear others speak.

I would ask our Vidette editor to do some research and write an article for us. Interview the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office about the following questions that arose.

I have heard our Sheriff’s Office is understaffed and I suspect like the rest of the county underfunded. Councilman Catterlin shared in the meeting they are planning to hire seven more officers if Elma and McCleary both decide to use their services? What if it is only McCleary? Does the sheriff’s office have the funding to increase the department at this time?

How much will the service cost annually? Is it a set cost or based on number of responses?

Will they respond to burglaries or burglar alarms when the homeowner is away? Rumors have circulated saying “no.”

What will be their average response time to a call?

Will they keep officers in our area around the clock?

In conjunction with this I would like to know the experience Oakville has had using our Grays Harbor County Office’s department. They have the Chehalis Tribal police close by who assist as well.

I talked with a young lady who lived in Oakville. When she called 911 about a “peeping Tom” she was told the nearest Sheriff was in Montesano and was asked if she wanted him to respond. She did want him to respond but went to her father-in-law’s house because she was afraid to be home alone.

A former Oakville mayor attended and spoke at our meeting. In his opinion, he felt their police coverage was not adequate. How do others in the community and in leadership feel?

No one wants to pay more taxes. However, services are not free. Study the issues, ask the questions and vote for what you think is best. It isn’t black and white and the impact of our decision as a community is critical.

Joy Iversen lives in McCleary and prides herself as a local historian and a concerned resident.