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Try, try again on city public safety levy

The Forest Grove City Council on Monday adopted the political adage that 'if at first you don't succeed...' Well, you know the rest. At the urging of the citizens' Public Safety Advisory Commission, the council unanimously authorized the city manager to put a public safety levy on the May 2007 ballot -- the exact same measure that failed last month.

Some, no doubt, will criticize the elected officials for failing to live by the will of the voters. What part of 'no,' they will ask, doesn't the city understand.

Truth is, there's a lot about that 'no' vote that backers of the proposal don't understand.

Some attribute slim defeat of the measure to confusion over the fact that Washington County had it's own public safety levy on the same ballot.

Others grumble that the Forest Grove school district soured voters with a larger levy proposal, which also failed in the city.

There are even those who say this newspaper played a role, by giving the measure too little coverage.

We don't know why the levy failed, though we may get a better feeling after the city studies the results of a survey being mailed out (see guest column, below). We're pretty sure, however, that it wasn't because Forest Grove residents want to see a decline in public safety services or have the library and parks budgets raided to pay for police officers and firefighters.

It was a variety of reasons, no doubt, that led to the defeat of the measure. For some voters, nothing will change their minds and for them, next May's election will be a waste of time and money. But it's our belief that many of the voters didn't understand that the proposed measure is basically the renewal of a current levy that needs to be boosted a bit to make up for the increased costs of growth, and the fact that the last levy, passed in 2002, was set too low for political reasons.

Those voters need a strong campaign with a clear, consistent message that focuses on what the money is now used for and what will happen if it's not replaced. Then, because this measure will fall in an off-election year, levy supporters, must give voters a reason to mail in the ballots. If turnout falls below 50 percent, the measure will fail, even if the 'yes' votes outnumber the 'no' votes.

All of this adds up to a big challenge for public safety advocates. But they had to start somewhere and Monday was a strong first step.