Local government

Nyssa holds city hearing on plan to boost public safety fee charged to residents

NYSSA – Nyssa city officials want feedback from residents regarding a proposal to boost the city’s public safety fee at a hearing next week.

Nyssa residents now pay a $5 public safety fee on their water bills but a boost in the tax would allow the city to hire a police officer to bolster its first-responder ranks.

The session to take public was scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 8, at the Nyssa City Council chambers above the police department at 14 South 3rd Street, too late for press time.

Nyssa elected leaders discussed a public safety fee hike at a city council session last month.

Suggestions at the meeting included raising the fee to between $7 and $10.

The 2022-2023 Nyssa city budget lists income from the public safety fee at $76,500.

“We are doing the hearing Tuesday so we can listen to the general public to see what they have to say, positive or negative,” said Jim Maret, Nyssa city manager. Maret said he recommended a fee boost to $7“That raises approximately $90,000 total but that covers wages, PERS (Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System) and insurance,” he said.

He said the public safety fee is not connected to the water and sewer fees.

“People seem to have a misconception. Water and sewer (fees) will stay where they are at,” he said.

Maret said after the public hearing the council could raise the public safety fee through a resolution.

Maret emphasized the fee hike is a proposal.

“Right now, I want the council to look at everything, understand everything and then make the best decision they can. I do not want to make a hasty decision,” he said.

Maret said the small Nyssa Police Department desperately needs another fulltime police officer. Now the Nyssa police force consists of seven fulltime police officers and one reserve officer.

The workload for the police continues to increase, said Maret.

“We are seeing more homeless and we are dealing with more crime. Part of it is the decriminalization of hard drugs. That is causing more problems for the city,” said Maret, who serves as a part-time reserve officer.

In 2020 three in five Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 110 to reduce penalties for possessing a small amount of illegal narcotics.

The law earmarked a percentage of Oregon’s marijuana tax to be funneled into drug treatment programs for individuals caught with a small amount of illegal narcotics rather than going into the state’s criminal justice system.

The law has proven to be deeply unpopular with some law enforcement officers who assert it creates more problems than it solves.

“The decriminalization of hard drugs is causing more problems for every city. So, we are just trying to figure out what to do in a bad situation,” said Maret.

Nyssa police also face challenges regarding wages, said Chief Don Ballou.

“We are battling the fact that Idaho used to pay a lot less than Oregon. That’s changed. So, not only are we having a hard time bringing in new officers, we have a hard time retaining them,” said Ballou.

Ballou said the nature of crime in Nyssa “is shifting.”

“We’ve dealt with a lot of smaller crimes in the past, like criminal mischief, but we are starting to see more violent stuff happening,” said Ballou.

Ballou said in the last two years his agency had two officer-involved shootings, including one where reserve policeman Joseph “JJ” Johnson was and killed in April.

“We are seeing a lot more violent stuff happening. I’d like to combat that before it becomes a real issue,” said Ballou.

Another police officer will be a big help in combating crime, he said.

“One more officer would allow us to have more focus on our cases and more people out working on the patrol side,” he said.

Maret said the police department “needs help.”

“That’s just how it is. We really need that eighth officer,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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