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Public safety levy will shape future

This weekend, voters will begin receiving their ballots for the May 15 election. For those in Forest Grove, it offers a great chance help determine what direction the city takes for the next few years.

Before we make the case for the public safety levy, let's be straight about a couple things. Although supporters don't like to frame it as such, Measure 34-142 is a tax hike and property owners who think they're already paying too much for municipal services should vote against it.

And, despite what some supporters imply, the levy isn't the only thing standing between you and a meth-crazed car-jacker or uncontrolled chimney fire. If the measure fails, the local police and fire departments won't disappear.

But neither is the levy a referendum on growth. Viewing a 'no' vote as a way to slow the pace of development is short-sighted. Growth will come. The only question is whether we have any say in how it will affect us.

Which is why this measure is needed.

Measure 24-142 is a reasonable step forward in the city's effort to accommodate the people and businesses that want to move here while maintaining Forest Grove's unique character.

It extends the current public safety levy and tacks an additional 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value onto property. That increase (about $6.50 a month for a typical homeowner) will ensure that our police and fire departments are able to cover the ever-growing number of homes and businesses within the city limits. And, it will help other city departments to avoid cuts.

Those who vote against the measure are not just saying 'no' to the increase in property taxes; they're saying 'no' to the current level of funding, which runs out next year.

The loss of that levy money (about $931,000 this year) cannot be absorbed solely by the police and fire departments. That's why other city services will be affected.

How much? We don't know exactly, but when the budget office ran the numbers earlier this year, none of them looked good.

If the levy fails, will the parks department really close the pool every weekend? And will the 'temporary' reduced hours at the library become permanent? We hope not, but there's a cost for every hour a facility stays open.

If the levy fails, will the fire department really lay off four firefighters? Maybe not, but something has to give, and the quickest way to save money is to cut staffing levels.

We agree with Jon Kaiser, the Forest Grove resident who came to a weekend budget forum and framed the levy question as a choice between city services that are essential and those that are nice when you have extra cash. But while Kaiser concluded that public pools and libraries are luxuries, we think they, like fully-staffed police and fire stations, are essential to our city as we know it - and as we want it to be.