Will council candidates honor the 2006 utility tax levy to fund enhanced police force?

Federal Way now has a police officer ratio that is far below the Washington state average of 1.44.

Question: Back in 2006, the Federal Way City Council successfully convinced voters to approve a 1.75% “Proposition 1” utility tax levy “… for the purpose of providing enhanced police and community safety” and to specifically “fund 18 additional police officers.” But, even with residents and businesses still paying this additional “public safety” utility tax today, the actual staffed “officers per 1,000 residents” ratio is lower now (1.31), than it was back in 2006 (1.39) before voters passed this additional tax levy.

And yet, the “statement for” in the 2006 voter pamphlet said that it would “bring our ratio to 1.60.” That would be 160 sworn police officers at our current population of nearly 100,000 residents. But, Federal Way has only 130 full commissioned officers today.

Things just don’t add up. When asked by the mayor to comment about “Prop 1” during a council meeting on March 19, city attorney Ryan Call said, “We are using general fund money for other things.” In fact, so much general fund support has been pulled from the police department that our additional “Prop 1” utility tax revenue is now unable to “enhance” anything anymore, and Federal Way now has a police officer ratio that is far below the Washington state average of 1.44. At council meetings, Mayor Jim Ferrell has said that the city is in “legal compliance” with “Prop 1.” Legal or not, this ongoing general fund shortfall in police department funding clearly fails to honor the spirit of this ballot measure and the will of the voters.

Will the 2019 council candidates honor “Prop 1.” commit to fully funding our “enhanced” police force and that ratio of 1.60 “officers per 1,000 residents”?

Scott Chase

Federal Way

Here are the council candidates responses:

Mark Koppang, Pos. 5: As a member of the council, public safety has been and remains my No. 1 concern. I have taken the tough votes necessary to create the revenue stream necessary to add the officers we need while also championing innovative ways to address crime, including proactive youth engagement programs.

My immediate goal is to identify the funding necessary to get to 140 officers as soon as feasible from both a budgetary and logistical standpoint. I will also continue to look at ways to support public safety through innovative programs such as Safe City while continuing the focus on continuing to add officers annually as our city continues to grow.

Granted, just adding more officers won’t eliminate crime. However, having additional officers will have a positive impact by allowing increased specialization within the department to address the evolving public safety needs of our city.

Jamila Taylor, Pos. 5: I’m running to put an end to the lack of transparency and accountability that we’ve seen, and this is another reason why change is necessary. The voters supported this tax “for the purpose of providing enhanced police and community safety” and I believe that these funds should only be used for that purpose. These funds should not be diverted.

This is a matter of trust and accountability. When people vote on a tax to be used in a specific way, we have an obligation to use it for that purpose. When we don’t, we break the trust that our residents have in us. It makes people more mistrustful of our government and more hesitant to support additional revenue, which makes all of us less safe and secure. We can’t afford that.

As public servants, we also have an obligation to be accountable for the decisions we make and votes we take. People are frustrated with seeing our elected representatives spend time with their donors but not in our community. We’re also tired of seeing them take votes that go against what our residents want, while advancing the agendas of special interests. You can count on me to keep my word and my obligations to the residents of our city.

Linda Kochmar, Pos. 7: Of course I will honor the 2006 voter-approved additional utility tax levy to enhance police and community safety. The total city utility tax is 7.75%, with 1.75% of that intended for police and public safety. The 1.75% includes a half-time judge among other public safety issues. The other 6% of the tax is intended for the street overlay program and other projects. When Prop 1 was passed in 2006, each 1% of the utility tax was approximately $1.25 million per year. As I understand it, this amount may be less now because many people have discontinued their landline phones in favor of cell phones. The utility tax may now be taxed by the cell phone provider and may not be going to the city where the individual lives. Also, employee salaries have gone up since 2006. So, the larger question should be, “If the 1.75% utility tax is not enough for the use intended, how can the city augment that fund to fully fund police and community safety?”

Tony Pagliocco, Pos. 7: From my research and understanding, the main reason our ratio is not higher is because of the decision to eliminate 18 officers in the 2011-2012 budget. The cut positions were not associated with Prop 1 funding, instead, the layoffs were made within other areas of the department.

However, in the 2013/2014 budget, two of the FTE positions funded by Prop 1 were frozen (page 219 of 2013/2014 adopted budget). Then in the 2015/2016 budget (page C-93 of the 2015/2016 adopted budget), you see two frozen positions for police officers itemized as “2.0 FTE Prop 1.” As a resident, it does make me question why positions that were supposed to be funded were frozen after the fact, but I can say that in the 2019/2020 adopted budget (page F-1), it shows that all appropriate positions are being funded now by that 1.75% tax increase.

The real question we need to answer is, how do we rehire the officers we laid off in 2011? The 2011/12 budget shows 169 regular police staff (115 officers – pg 219) and the 2019/20 budget shows 160 regular police staff (110 officers – pg C-81), this is alarming to me when you compare the population growth between 2012 and today.

I honor to do whatever I can to help increase the staffing of our police as I am in full support of a 1.60 / 1000 ratio and FBI Regional Crime data from the UCR strongly suggests that for our size of a city, we should really be at 1.70 / 1000. If it means us having to look at what the value proposition is for certain parts of the budget are in the next cycle, then we’re going to have to do it. This is not a situation that can be put off to the side any longer.

Susan Honda, Pos. 3: Prop 1 for public safety passed in 2006 with 62.39% of voter approval. This called for many positions to be paid for by an increase in the utility tax. The positions include 16 police officers, two police lieutenants, one records specialist, one code compliance officer, two prosecutors, one court clerk, 0.5 judge, one maintenance worker; these are all filled.

In the ordinance that was created by Prop 1, these positions are listed for a total cost of $2.45 million. In 2006 we had 119 police officers. Today we are authorized to have 134. I have asked our police chief several times what number of officers he would like to have and he has said that for a population of 100,000 people he would like 140 police officers. I would like to get to that number as quickly as possible. Public safety is my No. 1priority and as a council member and deputy mayor, I ask questions of staff and listen to their answers.

I have been asking questions on Prop 1 for several years. We now have a monthly review of Prop 1 expenditures. This additional utility tax has needed to be supported by transfers from the general fund for many years as the utility tax has not been enough to support all of the staff positions identified in Ordinance 06-532.

Thank you for the question and yes I do support Prop 1.

Sharry Edwards, Pos. 3: Thank you for the question. I have been able to talk to the Police Guild to help fully understand the question, and would like to gather more information from the city as to how and why the money that the taxpayers approved is not being allocated as indicated?

I fully support our law enforcement, and their recommendations for needs. They are here to protect and serve us, and we need them now more than ever. We must support the will of the voters.

In addition, the current City Council made decisions on $50,000 of the police budget last year, choosing to remove this money and allocate it to other things, for other reasons. Although well intended, it was nonetheless a decision made by the body of the council without consulting the police department. I believe that the council should work as a group, and fully look into this issue. If elected, I would consult with the Police Guild on any and every decision made about their budget and find ways to support and enhance it — not take away from it with little notice and without consulting them.

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