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Does Forest Grove work for you?

Every two years, citizens are asked to rate the services provided by the City of Forest Grove through a survey distributed in the utility bill. This year's survey will also include questions to gain feedback from citizens regarding the failure of the recent Community Safety Levy.

The original Community Safety Levy was passed in November 2002. The purpose of the levy was to hire three police officers, two firefighters/paramedics and to stop using general fund reserves (the city's savings account) to pay for operations.

This levy passed by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin. The additional police officers were hired to increase police presence in the community by adding one officer per shift. The two firefighters/paramedics were added to improve response time and to improve the Fire Department's ability to respond to two calls received at the same time. There are approximately 350 times per year when the Fire Department is responding to two or more calls at the same time.

The city asked voters to renew this levy at the Nov. 7, 2006, election. The renewal of the levy failed by a slim majority of the 5,708 Forest Grove citizens who voted on this ballot measure.

The levy represents a significant percentage of the city's general fund budget and beginning in July, 2007, we will need to reduce services by $640,000. On July 1, 2008, we will need to reduce an additional $940,000 in order to have a balanced budget.

The city will have to reduce its general fund budget by approximately $1.5 million during the next two years. Balancing the budget without the levy will greatly impact city services like police, fire, parks, aquatics, library, planning and city administration. Further complicating the failure of the levy is the fact that costs will continue to increase.

After the election results were known, the city immediately implemented a hiring freeze for all general fund departments to help reduce expenses. The hiring freeze has already resulted in four vacancies that are not being filled - one police officer, one firefighter, and two half-time reference librarians.

Consequently, staff will begin the process of reducing services in these departments with hopes of maintaining the best possible service to our citizens.

The loss of one firefighter/ paramedic means that sometimes when the Fire Department receives two emergency calls at the same time, only one call will be responded to until a qualified volunteer arrives to answer the second call. The Police Department must respond to an increasing call volume with one less officer. Library services are affected without the reference librarians.

City staff and leaders will be meeting to determine what other reductions and actions are necessary to address the long-term impacts of the levy failure as it pertains to our ability to provide service to the citizens of Forest Grove. Even with the failure of the levy, we will continue to provide the best services with the resources we have to work with. Failure of the levy will leave city leaders with many difficult choices to make.

Your December utility bill includes a citizen survey about city services. As part of the survey, the city would like to know why citizens voted 'no' or why they didn't vote at all for the levy. The survey includes the choices for those citizens to tell us why they voted 'no,' as well as a place to explain any other reasons the list does not include.

Responses from the survey will help the city plan for the future. Please watch for the survey in your December utility bill and let us know your opinions.

The survey may be completed online at www.ci.forest-grove.or.us/hottopics.htm by clicking on 2006 Citizen Survey. Any questions regarding the survey may be directed to Beverly Maughan, Assistant to the City Manager, at 503-992-3234.

Michael J. Sykes is the city manager of Forest Grove