By Polly Keary, Editor
Monroe’s population hasn’t dropped since 2008. But the number of police has; there are currently four fewer officers and five fewer administrative workers than there were in 2008. The police budget has also shrunk. It’s now $1 million less than it was five years ago.
So Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer is asking Monroe voters to approve a tenth-of-a-penny sales tax to help the department get caught up on staff and equipment.
“What we are proposing to do is find two additional officers positions,” said Quenzer, seated at a meeting table in his office last week.
Two more officers would allow Monroe to go back to a three-beat system, meaning police officers would patrol in three separate areas of Monroe at all times. That would make it less likely that police could get stopped by a train crossing between them and an emergency.
It costs about $100,000 to train and hire a new officer; the levy would pay for two, with some money left over.
“The excess money beyond that we would utilize for emergencies, like unanticipated things like homicide investigations. And we could use it for equipment purchases as needed,” Quenzer said.
Currently there are eight police cars that have reached their shelf-life at the department, he said.
There are several reasons Quenzer is seeking a sales tax levy instead of the more common property tax levy.
For one thing, the sales tax levy could raise about $250,000 or so per year, which would require a hefty property tax hike.
“In order to meet the same amount in property tax, we’d have to raise property tax by 15 percent,” said Quenzer.
And it’s not fair to ask property tax payers to bear the whole burden of filling the police budget’s gaps, he said.
“We feel that instead of the property tax payers paying for the service, the users should pay for it,” he said.
Only about a quarter of calls for police service actually serve people who own property in Monroe. And one study of the police department done in 2010 stated that, because of all the people passing through Monroe on SR 522, SR 203 and U.S. 2, Monroe’s traffic was equivalent to that of a city of 50,000 rather than a town of 17,000, Quenzer said.
“Those people are using the police services,” he said. “They get involved in collisions. Some get in criminal actively. We deal a lot with people whose addresses are not Monroe.”
The additional quarter-million or so dollars per year will help the department absorb some losses.
The traffic enforcement camera program is ending in December. That brought about $260,000 into the city in 2012. About half that money went to pay for equipment.
Much of the reduction in funding to the police department was the result of budget cuts from the city. Six layoffs occurred in 2010 and 2011.
Quenzer hopes that voters will view a sales tax more favorably than they would a property tax.
He said that although an identical proposition failed two years ago, he said that at that time he perhaps didn’t do enough to explain the matter to people.
“For every $10 people spend, the sales tax would increase one penny,” he said.
The increase wouldn’t apply at Monroe’s car dealerships, nor would it apply to groceries.
So a person who spends $10,000 per year on taxable goods in Monroe would pay about $10 more in taxes than they do currently.
That money can’t go to pay for anything that is currently funded by the city, Quenzer noted. That’s called supplanting, and it isn’t legal. Otherwise, the city could just pull an equal amount out of next year’s police budget and put it in the city’s general fund instead.
The voters will decide whether to approve Proposition 1, the sales tax, on the Aug. 6 primary ballot.