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Bemis responds to safety concerns

Mayor promises at luncheon to follow up soon with Tri-Met

Mayor Shane T. Bemis addressed the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon Tuesday, Jan. 8, to address public safety concerns, and to review the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Public Safety.

Bemis convened the task force last year in response to a public safety summit in which 130 citizens aired their concerns. The task force reported back to the City Council in December, recommending that the council put a five-year public safety levy on the November ballot. The levy would increase property taxes in Gresham by $1 per every $1,000 of assessed value, which would beef up Gresham's police by 35 to 40 sworn officers.

The challenge now is to convince voters to pay for it.

'Can you talk about the status of the public safety bond measure and how you can convince us to vote for it?' asked the Rev. Cynthia O'Brien, who sits on the Government Affairs Council of the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce, which organized the luncheon Tuesday.

'Any time you ask the public to pay more money, it's a difficult proposition,' Bemis said. 'However, I believe the public has brought this issue forward.'

Bemis said he believes that, despite Gresham residents' reticence to pay for a new levy, they can be swayed when confronted with the problem.

'When you talk about seven to 12 officers on the street at any one time and you have 120 gangs in this city, what do you want to do? How far do you want to let this community get before we have to make an investment?' Bemis said.

A citizen group will now take over the task of promoting the levy to voters. After the meeting, O'Brien said she was already leaning in support of the levy, and was pleased with Bemis' response.

'I'm really sensitive to how many of our citizens don't want to vote for any more taxes,' O'Brien said. 'On the one hand, I think we're under-taxed. On the other hand, I don't want to pay any more taxes myself. I think there's a tension for everybody.'

Although the public safety levy was a focal point of the luncheon, questioners also wanted to know how the city is working with TriMet to address crime problems on the MAX light-rail line.

'Why the reluctance to seriously look at closing the MAX line to just the fare paying customers, doing what every other major mass transit system in this country does?' asked Fairview City Administrator Joe Gall.

Gall put the same question to TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen when Hansen addressed the East Metro Economic Alliance last month. A frequent complaint directed at TriMet is that broken fare machines and lax enforcement enables people to ride for free, enabling criminal activity.

Hansen has committed to a pilot project that would force fare payment before boarding at one station in Gresham, either through turnstiles or a closed station. However, he has yet to issue any sort of timeline for beginning the project.

The pilot project was one of three issues addressed in a letter that Bemis wrote to Hansen in mid-December. The letter asks for specifics on the pilot project, an eastside security precinct and upgrades to aging TriMet infrastructure. Bemis was told not to expect a response until after the holidays. After the luncheon on Tuesday, Bemis said he still hasn't received a response, and would wait one more week before following up.