ONTARIO – A new officer will join the ranks of the police department after the Ontario City Council approved a measure to reinstate a $5 public safety fee.
The council approved the move 6-1 on Tuesday, May 23, with only councilor Ken Hart voting no.
The vote was a victory for new Mayor Debbie Folden, who made public safety the focus of her political campaign last year. The fee will be assessed on utility bills. The new officer will cost about $130,000 a year.
“I don’t like taxes and I hate assessing a fee but we have a real crime problem here,” said Folden.
The fee boost was in doubt earlier this month when three councilors – Hart, John Kirby and Sam Baker – voiced opposition to reinstating the $5 fee.
Yet Tuesday night Baker and Kirby had a change of heart.
Kirby said he decided to support the fee because of what he said was a growing homeless and crime problem in town.
Baker said during the meeting voting for the fee “goes against my grain.”
“I don’t want to burden the taxpayer with a new tax. But at this point and time I would have to agree we have to do something,” he said.
Baker said he wants the council to reevaluate the fee next year.
Hart said he was in favor of a new police officer, but disagreed on how to pay for the new position.
“I don’t believe the city of Ontario, at this time, should add a new fee. I could understand support for a new fee, a new tax, if we are out of funds. We are not out of funds,” he said.
The debate was over installing the fee or using money from the general fund – filled partially with marijuana sales tax revenue. The city had a $5 public safety fee on its books until three years ago, when the rate was dropped to $3.
Last year, the council discarded the fee entirely.
The new police officer position was approved by the city’s 14- person budget committee last month but Hart, Baker and Kirby voted against it.
Folden said she did not favor using marijuana tax revenue to pay for the new job because she couldn’t guarantee the “marijuana money will always be there.”
Kirby declared at the meeting he changed his vote only after a “lot of soul searching.”
“I will support it. I will say this next year we’ve got to change the way we budget. We have to look at what resources and assets we have and whether we set money aside and savings and earn some money,” he said,
Folden said she was “sorry we had to do it. But I felt it was important to get another officer.”
Mike Iwai, Ontario police chief, said the new officer will be a crucial addition.
“I am very thankful. The philosophy of no call is too small will continue,” he said.
Iwai said the job announcement for the position went out last week.
“It’s not going to be something I will be able to fill right away,” he said.
He said the new position will be filled sometime after July 1.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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