The McCleary police levy has proven to be the most highly charged ballot measure, possibly, in the little city’s history. This year, the city’s annual budget for it’s three-man police force is $470,000. The city had approximately $360,000 to spend on the Police Dept. This is a shortfall of $110,000.
The council approved the mayor taking $110,000 from reserves to cover this shortfall. The city of McCleary’s reserve funds are way below what they should be. The strength or weakness of any given reserve fund is based on how many months of operating expenditures that fund has in reserve. In a poor economy, a reserve fund should never drop below three months of operating expenditures. This is extremely important because it protects the residents from financial catastrophe in the event of a major infrustructure failure, natural disaster, etc. The Current Expense Reserve is at 71 percent of three months operating expenditures. Not so good, huh? The Water Reserve Fund is at 43 percent . The Sewer Reserve is at 44 percent and the Light and Power Reserve is at 25 percent . These levels are disasterous. A director of operations, who recently retired from management of three large utilities and received the lifetime achievement award for outstanding service, informed us that one bad winter storm could cost McCleary’s Light and Power $500,000. We have $200,000 in that reserve fund. This is rolling the dice. The water and sewer rates in McCleary are almost double of that of surrounding cities. Recently, Councilman Jeff Catterlin spoke with four different households who said they are leaving town at the end of the month because it is too expensive to live here. Landlords tell us they can’t fill rentals because of the high utility rates. There are empty houses for sale on almost every block in town. Many of the downtown businesses are empty. In short, our town is rapidly and steadily drying up. Mayor Dent is oblivious to these facts and his policies are not working. He keeps “dangling the carrot” of Halo Steel coming to build a pipe plant that will solve all our problems. We have contacted Greater Grays Harbor, Inc; the Washington State Department of Commerce, Congressman Derek Kilmer and Senator Patty Murray . The answer, basically, was all the same. No permits have been applied for and no “movement” in the project. The state Department of Commerce, which monitors these types of projects very closely, has deemed the Halo Pipe Plant project “cold” since September of 2012.
We don’t work for Mayor Gary Dent or city hall. We work for the residents of McCleary. Now, while it would be wonderful if Halo Steel were to build and hire, we cannot in good conscious approve a budget based on a very thin “maybe.”
Proposition 2, which the mayor, three council members and police are supporting, if passed, would bring in around $60,000 a year for six years. Annually, this is still at least $50,000 short of what is needed to fund the police. So, again, the mayor will most likely ask the council to take from reserves that are already depleted. This is a trend that is irresponsible and a steady, certain death for McCleary. This is poor and shameful management that we cannot support.
That is why we are both strongly against both Proposition 1 and Proposition 2. Neither solve the budget problem in a responsible way and they put a financial burden on the residents of McCleary who, by the way, are in the bottom 30 percent of per capita income in the state. The mayor is out of touch with the very people who elected him. Councilman Catterlin spoke with a couple this week who live on $1,100 a month and another individual who lives on $675 a month. Another resident said that the levy increase would keep her from being able to make the co-pay on her medication. There are many, many others in this same predicament. Mayor Dent, this tax increase will hurt many more than you think. And we believe the ballot box will confirm this.
The solution is to contract police services with the Sheriff’s Office. More than 50 Washington cities now contract with their local county sheriff because it is financially the best solution.
The McCleary mayor and city’s police chief spout that response times will be too long. Sheriff Rick Scott and Undersherriff Dave Pimentel have recently added six more deputies to their roster of deputies (now 34), specifically to shorten response times. We understand that Elma is seriously considering contracting with the county and, if McCleary does also, Sheriff Rick Scott assured us, they will be hiring four to five more deputies to make sure they have even faster response times, along with building face-to-face working relationships with residents. In our opinion, the slow response time argument is now completely invalid.
The mayor and chief also claim that the service level would go down with the county. We believe the level of service would be more than adequate for the budget McCleary residents can realistically afford. If McCleary contracts with GHC Sheriffs Office, instead of a $110,000 shortfall, we would have a $160,000 to $210,000 budget surplus. Our plan, if the council will approve, could put $100,000 a year in reserves to ensure financial stability, put a substantial amount back into the city for improvements (streets, parks, library, cemetary, museum, etc.) and use $50,000-plus to lower the tax on utility bills. This would start a trend that might make someone actually want to live in McCleary or open a business here. Mayor Dent is correct on one thing. This levy is not just about the amount of money being asked for. In reality, myor, this is about appropriating the taxpayers hard-earned money in the best possible manner. We will be voting “No” on both propositions, and encourage you to voice your opinions to the other McCleary City Council members. Tell them how you want your tax dollars spent.
Jeff Catterlin Sr. represents McCleary City Council Position 1 and Brent Schiller represents McCleary City Council Position 4.