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Poulsbo will get additional police officer

POULSBO — Amid a tug of war between funding and public safety needs, Poulsbo’s City Council took action Dec. 4 to add another police officer to the city’s force.

“We will go out and hire in January,” Mayor Becky Erickson said. “As soon as we can. We need another police [officer].”

Police Chief Alan Townsend has campaigned for an additional officer, citing the area’s increase in heroin use and associated crimes as one reason to add to the department.

But the city’s budget is tight. Erickson has publicly said that she wants another officer but doesn’t know how the city will pay for it.

On Dec. 4, the council found a way while discussing the 2014 budget.

“It’s coming from the general fund — roads, police, parks, all of general government,” Erickson said. “We are trimming a series of things in order to hire another police officer, including not buying another (police) car.”

The city doesn’t know exactly where it will make the cuts to services, but wherever they are, they will have to equal approximately $108,000, the cost of setting up a new officer.

“That is a very steep price tag up front, because of all the equipment we have to purchase for them,” Erickson said. “A bulletproof vest alone is $650. And all the uniforms, equipment, guns and some basic training pieces — they’re expensive, initially.”

The officer’s wages and benefits will be around $80,000 annually.

The council discussed how the city has put off hiring an additional police officer, adding that the city can no longer wait.

Currently, the police department has 10 officers, three sergeants, one detective, a deputy chief and the chief — a total of 16 sworn personnel. The nationwide average for a city with Poulsbo’s population, 10,000, is two officers for every 1,000 residents, according to the U.S. Justice Department. And a July staffing study by the police department determined that approximately 80 percent of the area’s crime can be tied to drug use and that a total of 19 officers are needed to take on the job.

“We have all these ‘have dos’ that we can’t avoid, and then we get down to where things become discretionary, and unfortunately it’s something like a police officer,” Councilman David Musgrove said.

The concern across the dais Dec. 4 surrounded cutting into city services too much, when funds are already slim.

“We are obviously inadequately funding our street programs. That is not a mystery to any of us,” said Councilman Ed Stern, further noting that recent work on arterial roads has benefited from grant funding but has come at the expense of neighborhood roads.

Stern said he would like the City Council to have a discussion on forming a transportation benefit district, a separate governing body that can raise funds solely for the city's roads. Transportation benefit districts are often used to implement $20 car tab fees, such as the fee implemented on Bainbridge Island this year.

Erickson said she has drafted language to form a public safety district that would seek funding for the police department. The public safety district is part of the mayor’s recent approach to tackle the area’s heroin problem.

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