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'Pushed down our throats': Hundreds oppose city public safety fee; police say it's needed

An Aumsville Police Department cruiser

More than 400 people have signed an online petition demanding that a new public safety fee in Aumsville go before the city's voters.

Opponents of the fee say it could hurt residents and that Aumsville's City Council approved it last month without enough input from the public.

The city administrator, however, said authorities gave residents plenty of notice and opportunities to let their voices be heard.

Dianne Lohse and five other voters in Aumsville told KATU on Friday that they're not happy about the city's new $12 per month public safety fee.

"This fee has been pushed down our throats and not taken properly," Lohse said. "We vote to have our taxes raised accordingly when they ask for money. It is the job of the City Council to take that money and budget it correctly."

Derek Clevenger, another Aumsville resident, is concerned about the way the ordinance was written, attaching the fee to monthly sewer and water bills.

"For people in the community that are on fixed incomes, and there's a lot of them that can't afford this fee, there's a potential of them having their water shut off and/or having a lien put on their property or their home," Clevenger said.

Last year, the home security consulting company Safewise listed Aumsville as the fourth safest city in Oregon. In 2016, the city came in at No. 13 on that list and 21st the year before.

Richard Schmitz, Aumsville's police chief, said the city's ranking improved in large part because the police department added a sixth officer about two years ago. But he also said in November that the cost for the service was outpacing the city's revenue.

"This is a budget issue that was identified in May," Clevenger said. "The public wasn't asked for comment until November."

The chief has also said the new $12 fee would allow him to hire a seventh officer, which would give the police department the ability to provide service 24-hours a day seven days a week. After the sixth officer was hired, the chief said it allowed officers to provide 24-hour coverage 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Clevenger said the city hasn't demonstrated a need for another officer, saying crime is down and call volume has not increased over the last four years.

He and Lohse also said the city held just two public input meetings about the fee in November and December. And they said many people didn't know about them.

"At the meetings that they held the community was very vocal that they were not in support of this fee," Clevenger said, "and yet the City Council chose to move forward with it anyway."

The city administrator, Ron Harding, told KATU notices about the meetings were put up in multiple locations including the city newsletter, which is posted monthly online with hard copies distributed throughout the city.

"The newsletter circulates to every home," Harding said by email. "We also post extra copies at the bank and restaurants so it actually has a high circulation, over 1,400 copies each month."

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