By editorial board • 

Increasing police staff need not dictate fee, tax

The McMinnville police have been chronically underfunded and understaffed for at least a quarter of a century now. Chief after chief have made their City Manager Kent Taylor over the years, largely to no avail.

Anyone familiar with the miracles of compounding knows what that can produce over time — a yawning chasm of disparity. Thus, it came as no surprise when a discouraged chief of detectives made his case for additional manpower earlier this week.

Taylor has eased into retirement, joining a series of chiefs serving under him over the years. That leaves the stage to City Manager Martha Meeker and Police Chief Matt Scales.

The local force received nothing special in this year’s budget, which is already set. So any relief will have to await next year’s cycle, allowing time for thoughtful consideration.

Mac’s ratio of sworn, full-time officers per 10,000 residents, the measure the FBI uses, runs 11.2. That reflects 37 officers serving 33,000 residents.

According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the national average is 18.0 for cities in McMinnville’s 25,000 to 50,000 range and 25.0 overall. 

Oregon cities tend to manage with relatively light staffing, thanks to relatively low crime rates. So while many major cities field more than 40 officers per 10,000 residents, led by the District of Columbia’s staggering 61.2, Portland county only about 16.

Still, McMinnville’s police staffing ratio trails those of virtually all Oregon cities in its classification, including Beaverton, Hillsboro, Medford, Eugene, Salem, Albany and Springfield. It would need to add 16 officers to achieve Portland’s ratio, 23 to reach the national average for cities its size and a more than doubling to 49 to reach the national all-sizes average.

Our understanding is that the chief would settle for seven, raising the local ratio to a still modest 13.3 per 10,000. And we see three possible approaches to financing those offerings.

The most palatable to taxpayers would probably be to simply shift internal priorities enough to carve the money out of current resources. The most acceptable to elected political leaders would probably be to submit a dedicated law enforcement levy to voters.

Another option would be to tack a law enforcement surcharge onto an existing city fee, such as the user fee assessed for water service, the option Newberg has taken. Regardless of which it might choose, the city’s new marijuana tax can be expected to provide some assistance.

We would prefer to see the city redivide the current pie, supplemented by the pot tax take.

Historically, voters have been willing to pay for a new school, park, street or police station, but not for additional staffing. Officials tried that with a local option levy for the school system and a special meth levy for the criminal justice system, both of which flopped. And we think fees should be based on the use they support, not extended to unrelated uses.

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