MONTESANO —Voters in McCleary shut down efforts to increase property taxes to benefit local police services Tuesday night. Now, city officials will need to decide where to cut services and whether to eliminate the police department completely and contract for services with the Sheriff’s Office.
Residents in McCleary needed to approve both property tax measures in order to avoid future cuts to the police department’s budget at least for the next year, but the election results Tuesday night showed a lack of support for both measures.
Proposition 1, a full-on excess maintenance and operations levy, would have generated an extra $110,000 for the next year. The measure needed a 60 percent supermajority for approval, but only 27 percent of the ballots cast were in favor of the measure. Proposition 1 trailed 82-218 with a little over half of the ballots still outstanding.
Proposition 2, a levy lid lift that would have generated $60,000 a year for the next six years — but would have still meant about $50,000 in cuts were needed in the future. The lid lift needed just a simple majority to pass, but 67 percent of the voters rejected it. The measure trailed 102-211 when the polls closed on Tuesday.
McCleary Mayor Gary Dent said he wanted to wait until all of the ballots had been cast before commenting on the polling numbers.
“I would prefer to wait to comment until after all the evening’s ballots have been counted,” Dent said.
While Dent wanted to wait for the outstanding ballots to trickle in, councilman Jeff Catterlin said the vote was a clear statement from the citizens of McCleary.
“For me personally, what this shows is that our community wants us to do something else rather than continuing to do what we have been doing, which is to spend a lot of money on a police force that we can’t afford,” Catterlin said.
Neither of the propositions would have restored services already cut. The current budget laid off a police officer, a police clerk, reduced hours for a building official and dipped into reserves and relies on a transfer from the city’s power utility to balance the budget.
Dent had endorsed the idea of Proposition 2, telling voters to just reject Proposition 1 — although he hasn’t said where the $50,000 in cuts that would still be needed would come from. The city also paid for a mailer talking about Proposition 2 and ignoring Proposition 1. Dent declined to comment on what the next step should be for the city with both propositions trailing by large margins.
In recent months there’s been a push to just contract services with the Sheriff’s Office — but that would likely mean fewer on-the-ground officers in the city and the on call responses would still take 5 to 15 minutes to respond. Proponents of contracting out services note that the city doesn’t have 24-hour on-the-ground coverage currently and that if McCleary Police officers respond, they do so from their homes outside the city limits, anyway.
Catterlin said he supports contracting services with the Sheriff’s Office because it is the financially responsible thing to do.
“If these propositions fail we are going to have at least a $110,000 shortfall in order to keep the police department as is and we just can’t afford to do that,” Catterlin said. “We would have a surplus of between $190,000 and $270,000 if we go with the county. The financially responsible direction is with the county.”
The city of Elma is also considering a contract with the Sheriff’s Office, but is not in as big a rush — or in nearly the dire financial shape that McCleary is.
The County Auditor’s Office reports that 827 voters were sent ballots in the city limits of McCleary. Election workers by lunch time said they were surprised that turnout at the drop box was not very strong, but hoped for more ballots turned in after work hours. Catterlin said he checked and there were about 130 ballots turned in before the polls closed.
No matter the result of the ballots that come in after the close on Tuesday, Catterlin said the council needs to follow the input of the citizens.
“If this trend holds true it is a very strong statement by the voters and I think the other councilmen need to take note of that,” Catterlin said. “The people have spoken and we need to listen.”