By Sally Gillie, Monitor
Monroe voters may see a ballot item this August asking for an increase in the city sales tax as a way to generate revenues for the Monroe Police Department. What’s being proposed is a hike of 0.2 percent, or two-tenths of 1 percent, to fund public safety.
The ballot request was put to the city council at its Jan. 22 meeting by Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer, who used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate how a decreasing budget and costly homicide investigations have seriously impacted his department in the past three years.
In his annual police department report, Chief Quenzer said about 25 percent of all calls handled by his department are from Monroe property owners. A sales tax, he said, “would target more fairly that additional 75 percent that are also users of public safety services.”
In 2010, he said, the department was cut back to a “bare bones budget that would only hold if there were no large crimes — that year we made it to August before we had a homicide downtown.” That homicide investigation was funded in part by putting off planned purchases, he said. But in 2011 a January homicide that is still being investigated has run up costs of more than $500,000. Quenzer said an outside force is funding that investigation, but with two more homicides this past year, resources are strained.
“If we hadn’t been able to use money not normally allocated to us we would be in dire straits,” he told the council.
Current staffing levels at the police department are also an issue, Quenzer said. This year, with a budget lower than in 2012, he said he already has one resignation from an officer, with one to two more indicating they may soon be leaving. “We are currently actively testing for officers to fill those positions,” he said. “That testing costs the department money that has not been budgeted for.”
Increased revenue from a sales tax, he said, would allow for the hire of up to three new officers to help bring staffing back to previous levels, replace patrol vehicles, and allow the department to “get some cutting edge equipment. Law enforcement continues to evolve as technology does,” Quenzer said.
Adding new officers would “allow us to put back into place the three-beat system that strategically places on-duty personnel throughout the city. This would reduce the response times,” he said, “because loss of manpower in the last three years has decreased our response time to all crimes.”
A second goal of the police department, said Quenzer, is moving forward to establish the city of Monroe’s municipal court in January of 2015. That change, approved by the council earlier this month, would allow the city to handle traffic infractions and criminal misdemeanors that are now under the jurisdiction of the Snohomish County Evergreen District Court. “We will incur some savings because of that,” said Quenzer.
Other improvements he would like to see happen in the future are tied into the department’s accreditation, a professional certification given to state agencies operating under the industry’s best practices and standards.
Quenzer said his department’s evidence room needs climate controls to protect evidence from extremes in temperature or moisture, factors that could potentially affect the outcome of a case.
“We have an ongoing problem with roof leaks and pests,” he said. Another security issue that needs addressing, he said, has to do with the impound lot, which does not have an alarm system. The impound lot is used to keep vehicles involved in vehicle assaults, homicides, or vehicles with suspected drugs in them awaiting search warrants.
“This past year we had someone break into the impound lot and remove drugs from a vehicle before we could obtain a search warrant,” he said.
Chief Quenzer said he would also like to be able to subscribe to Lexipol, a program that helps develop and keeps current the department’s policy and procedures manual. Keeping track of that information in-house, said Chief Quenzer, “is a time-consuming task.” Currently, he said, those updates are handled by someone from the command staff who has to review court decisions, then determine whether it affects department policy. If so, then the staff member must manually update the manual. A subscription to Lexipol costs $6,950 for the first year, then drops to $2,850 for subsequent years.
Quenzer said he is proposing to put the city sales tax increase on this August’s primary ballot for voters to decide. Car lot dealers are exempt from the sales tax.
In response to the presentation, Mayor Robert Zimmerman said that, while he doesn’t usually support raising taxes, he would vote for this sales tax increase because of the benefits to the community.
The council is expected to reach a decision by early February on whether to add the ballot item.
Monroe Parks prioritizes music festival, skateboard park
Monroe Parks and Recreation Director Mike Farrell said a city-led music festival has support in Monroe and his department is working with local musician and promoter Keith Brock to bring the event to Lake Tye Park on Sept. 7.
The theme for the proposed one-day festival is “Dare to Dream – Follow Your Dream,” and the event would bring in one to two local bands in the afternoon, followed by a headliner band, bringing a mix of jazz, blues, rock and country to the shores of Lake Tye.
Brock, a professional music promoter whose own career as a guitarist has brought him together with many greats in the music industry, said he “wants to encourage locals to dream; and to those who do succeed in their dreams, to bring that message back to the community.”
Brock reports that he has gotten positive feedback on a Monroe festival with potential performers, including John Popper, front man for the band Blues Traveler, who lives just outside Monroe; Jimmy Paxon, drummer for Stevie Nicks; Carl Verheyen, lead guitarist for Supertramp; Dave Morada, bass guitar for Kenny Loggins, and others.
The event could draw an estimated 2,800 people to Monroe.
Farrell said that, since the parks department did not budget the event for this year, he is asking the council for authority to spend up to $50,000 to cover the costs of the artists, staging, lighting and sound, travel expenses, security and restrooms.
That money and more, he said, should come back to the city from revenue that would come from ticket sales and concessions at the event. He said the Monroe Chamber of Commerce supports the idea and some local businesses have expressed interest in sponsoring the event.
“We have some real buy-in support from the community,” said Farrell. He said any surplus money that is generated from the festival could be used to establish a music festival fund for future events.
Several council members spoke in favor of the festival, but said they would like to see a more detailed report on anticipated expenses and revenues before approving the budget expense.
Skate Park may go street plaza
The Cadman Board and Blade Skate Park at Lake Tye is another priority for the parks department. This year, the department and its board of commissioners is looking at ways to enhance the park, making it more competitive and tying into the city’s brand to attract visitors looking for adventure.
These new possibilities for the park are based on ideas brought forward by park users Todd Yingling and Aris Williams, who have a vision of creating a street plaza design that would stay within the same outlines as the existing park and give new visual appeal to the area.
By advancing the capabilities of the park, they could also attract new skaters to the area. Funding for the proposed project would be sought through local sponsorships, fundraising and volunteer labor, said Farrell.
Plans for the street plaza concept would include replacing the current modular ramps with permanent features — stairs, ledges, benches, rails, kicker ramps and gaps — using non-traditional building materials such as brick, stone or marble to give skateboarders a street skating experience. Additional benches and even sculptures could be added around the perimeter.
Farrell said his department would be seeking community input for the proposed renovations, and hopes to incorporate the project into Monroe’s Comprehensive Parks Plan, scheduled to be updated later this year.
Lastly, the council was updated on a project still three to four years down the road; Cadman Park, located on the larger of two ponds that is now part of the Cadman gravel plant operations next to the Sky River Park.
Initial park plans include an entry area with parking, as well as a trailhead and boat launch. There will be a large space dedicated to picnicking and large gatherings, and spaces for tent camping and overnight RVs. When finished, there will be a paved pathway around the lake with trail extensions to the Skykomish River Park.
City may acquire Sky Meadow Water District
The council voted unanimously to approve the mayor signing a letter of intent expanding the city’s water district to encompass the Sky Meadow Water Association.
That letter is the first step in the process, which will include a city inspection of Sky Meadow’s system and equipment.
Monroe Public Works Director Brad Feilberg presented the city council with a map delineating Sky Meadow’s district area. He said acquiring the entire Sky Meadow district will require the city to send a letter of notification to the Snohomish county authorities. If the city were to assume the entire water association, estimated annual revenues would range from $150,000 to $170,000. The district currently has 380 customers.