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Public safety levy pitched

Kirk Tonkin and Heather Chaney say the future of public safety in West Linn is on the line.

Tonkin is a shop steward and the officers' representative to the Clackamas County Peace Officers Association, and Chaney also is a shop steward for CCPOA. Both work for the West Linn Police Department, but their jobs are not funded by the proposed levy. They spoke to the Tidings on their own time.

The current five-year levy, which began July 1, 2002 and ends June 30, 2007, pays the salaries and benefits of 12 officers and funds their equipment and training.

The city is proposing that the levy rate be increased from 75.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to 99 cents per $1,000.

Police Chief Terry Timeus and Lt. Vic Lancaster, who are not allowed to advocate for or against the levy, said the levy renewal is necessary to maintain the current level of police services and increase reserves.

'We operate from July to November on our reserves,' Timeus said, 'because property taxes aren't released to the city until November.'

Timeus says he would be able to keep the part-time parks officer and add a part-time school resource officer as well as a street officer in 2008 and another in 2010, mainly to keep up with increased population.

If the levy is not approved, Timeus said all 12 officers would not be fired. Instead, he envisions the city cutting back on all departments' budgets in order to pay for police services from the general fund.

'With fewer officers we would not be able to respond to non-priority calls,' Timeus said, 'such as parking, animals and code enforcement as well as presence at special events and neighborhood meetings.'

Tonkin and Chaney said they are concerned if this source of funding isn't available to the city.

'If we lost the 12 officers, it would cut us in half,' he said. 'We would probably be forced to respond only to priority-one emergency calls. But it is more likely that we would only lose about five officers,' Tonkin said.

Chaney, who lives in West Linn, pointed to several types of crimes that could receive lower emphasis with a reduced police force.

'When you think about the problems in our society today with identity theft and drugs, especially meth and alcohol,' Chaney said, 'it would be very tragic to lose any officers who could help us take care of our community.'

If the levy fails, said City Council President Scott Burgess, the council would need to use general fund dollars to keep police services near the level they are now - a move that would mean even less money for the parks department and the city's library.

'Clearly police is a basic service, and we're going to have to meet those needs first,' he said.

Chaney said losing officers would impact people in each neighborhood.

'We would not have time to park in your neighborhood to see if people are speeding,' she said. 'And we couldn't have extra patrols for security or those vacation home checks.'

Based on the city's budget estimates, the current level of levy funding would put the city more than $2 million in the red by 2007 but the proposed levy would balance the budget, according to Chris Jordan, city manager.