Budget season gets going in Keizer

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KEIZERTIMES/File photo

KEIZERTIMES/File photo

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

When the white board is in council chambers at Keizer Civic Center and the dots are out, that means one thing.

Yes, it’s budget time again.

The annual process kicked off last week with the Keizer Long Range Planning Task Force, comprised of Keizer City Councilors and members of the Keizer Budget Committee. The process kicks into high gear next month when three budget meetings – with an optional fourth one – are scheduled. Councilors must approve a budget by the end of June.

“We want you to vote which issues are your priority,” Keizer Finance director Susan Gahlsdorf told task force members. “We have dots and nine issues. It’s up to you; we want to see what you will support.”

As has been the case in recent years, one of the main issues in front of the task force last week was the desire for more police officers. Police chief John Teague, like predecessor Marc Adams, talked about staffing at the Keizer Police Department.

“We have four frozen FTE (full-time equivalent) officer positions,” Teague said. “We are reducing that to three FTE. Positions I’m looking at are two officers for patrol, while the third of the three is one more detective position.”

Teague noted the patrol positions are particularly needed at night.

“When Mrs. Jones’ car is broken into, that’s more important than getting someone rolling through a light,” he said.

Shortly after taking over as police chief last fall, Teague shuffled positions around, which included turning two traffic officers into detectives.

Teague said he has an issue with officers writing citations to simply generate revenue.

“I told the guys to write citations on people that most people would agree should get one,” he said. “When I was the chief in Dallas, I reduced citations by two-thirds. Our accident rates were within five (from before). That tells us two-thirds of citations being written before me were just generating revenue, they didn’t increase safety. I think that’s the way to police traffic in Keizer, too. Everyone seems to find that satisfactory.”

Teague also supports hiring a civilian computer forensics assistant for his department. He also expressed support for filling the vacant code enforcement position, even though it’s not in his department.

“One of the first things I said to (city manager) Chris Eppley is we need one,” Teague said of a code enforcer. “When things look better, crime goes down. We do need that code enforcement and I heartily support it.”

Teague emphasized KPD employees are getting the job done but could use some help.

“We’re handling what we have to do,” he said. “We’re responding to every call and investigating every crime. But we could do it better with three more cops.”

Nate Brown, director of Community Development, also spoke about the code enforcement position.

“This is different than in the past,” Brown said. “There are some code enforcement issues that have gone into the police department. Now we’re proposing we assume all of those in the city, including ones the police are now doing, and to assume right-of-way issues public works has been staffing for. This position is different in the past, since it provides services to other departments. We believe it will provide benefit to not just the typical code enforcement. The proposal before you is significant.”

Tim Wood asked for a second information technology position to be added, working alongside Phillip Wade. Wood noted since Wade started with the city in 2003, the number of city employees has risen from 80 to 93 and the number of servers has increased from one to 15. He also noted the additional challenges of Keizer Civic Center, which opened in 2009.

“We needed to hire part-time employees to get projects done with strict timelines,” Wood said. “Phil is being called in 24/7. We can really back up Phil and help with tasks he’s doing.”

Eppley agreed with the need for a second IT person.

“Phil is overworked,” Eppley said. “The average for a city our size is 300 employees. We rely heavily on technology. If Phil is no longer with us, we have no redundancy in our system. No one else knows our system. We need some redundancy for our own safety.”

Unfunded or unfilled police officer positions got the most dots, with 20. Police traffic control was next with 14 dots, followed by police computer forensics (11), code enforcement position and information technology position (10 each) and parks grant program (five).

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