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Tigard Council approves adding four new police officers next year

   The Tigard Police Department will be getting a fourth new police officer next year after the Tigard City Council approved a last-minute change to next year’s budget.

Last month, the city’s budget committee approved a plan that would allow the city’s police force to hire three additional officers next year in order to combat a creeping increase in response times.

The police department had initially asked the city’s budget committee for four additional officers, who had been cut during the Great Recession in order to save money. Police Chief Alan Orr argued that adding four officers was the bare minimum needed to meet the growing demands of a city that has surpassed 50,000 people and growing every day.

The budget committee — which includes all four members of the City Council and Tigard Mayor John L. Cook — compromised, agreeing to add three officers in order to pay for other projects and keep some money in reserves.

But on Tuesday, the City Council agreed to spend an additional $115,000 from its reserves on the cost of hiring an additional officer. It also agreed to pull an additional $100,000 from reserves to help pay for the city’s fledgling recreation department.

Response time cited as main concern

According to the Tigard Police Department, the average response time has risen to about nine minutes for serious police calls. For lower level calls, response times can be 30 minutes or more.

Council President Jason Snider, a former reserve police officer with the city, said that it was unacceptable to allow people to be put in harm’s way because it was inconvenient for the budget.

“(When) a burglar is in your backyard at 3 a.m. — and I’ve responded to this call before — and they are banging on your door and high on drugs and trying to bust into your house, we’re saying that it’s OK to wait 2 ½ minutes longer for a response on average to get to that call,” Snider said. “I can’t sit here and say that’s OK. Frankly, the four- or five-minute wait which is our standard is a really long time to wait. When you add three more minutes to that? I can’t sit here … without bringing it back to reality.”

Orr said on Wednesday that the four officers would be placed on patrol, allowing for more overlap of officers in the busiest time of day.

"Our call rates in the afternoons are probably the biggest increase in call volume that we have," Orr said.

The additional officers will put Tigard at the same staffing level it had in 2011, but Orr said there is a still a long way to go before the department has what he considers the proper amount of officers.

"These four officers are a bridge between what we need and where we want to be," Orr said.

Orr said that he'd like to see as many as a dozen more officers on the city's payroll. That funding would likely come from a proposed local option levy the city is considering putting before voters sometime next year.

Police say more officers needed

The 2017 budget, which goes into effect in July, is the culmination of years of planning by the city, said Tigard Finance Director Toby LaFrance.

“Normally at this time of year, I’d say that we’d been working on this project since August … But we’ve really been working on this budget for the last five years,” he said.

Back in 2011, the city warned that it was on the edge of a fiscal cliff. City expenses were rising faster than its revenues.

“The structure of the way revenues are set up to fund cities in state of Oregon does not keep up with cost of providing services,” LaFrance said.

The city made deep cuts, laying off 19 staff between 2010 and 2012. City Manager Marty Wine gave herself a $10,000 pay cut. The city's library was closed one day a week in order cut costs.

Tigard managed to survive those tough financial times, and LaFrance said it will likely be a few years before the issue comes up again.

Permanent change would have to come from either the state legislature, which would have to pass reforms to the way cities can collect revenue, or Tigard voters. The city plans to put a local option levy to supplement the city's tax rate before voters in 2017.

“Without bolder decisions to increase resources, the services that citizens tell us that they want through interactions, meetings, and surveys will continue to erode,” Wine wrote in the city’s budget.

Editor's Note: This story originally claimed that the city stopped paying for medical insurance for its workforce as part of budget cuts. The city pays a portion of insurance costs for its employees, although the amount and manner have changed since 2014. The city currently pays the first 5 percent of insurance increases each year for its employees, with a re-opener on insurance should cost increases come in at more than 10 percent for a given year.