In the community, Local government

Public safety fee boost back on the Nyssa City Council schedule

NYSSA – Nyssa Police Department Sgt. Greg Armenta believes in his city and he is also certain a proposed hike in the city’s public safety fee will make local residents safer.

The money, he said, would allow his department add more officers.

“It would increase our patrol capability in town,” he said last week.

Nyssa councilors last summer started pondering an increase in the city’s public safety to beef up the police department.

The current fee is $5, charged to residents and businesses in their monthly city bill. City leaders want to increase the fee to $15. The public safety fee is separate from the city’s water and sewer charges. The 2022-2023 Nyssa city budget lists income from the public safety fee now at $76,000.

Since August, officials have conducted public meetings and launched two surveys of residents to gather feedback.

The city received 77 responses in the first survey, said Jim Maret, city manager.

So far, said Maret, the city received 134 responses on the second survey. The first survey, he said, showed support for the fee hike but the second survey is running about “50-50.”

Plans now call for the council to consider the fee increase at its meeting Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. at Nyssa City Hall.

Armenta, who started work with the police department in 2007 as an unpaid reserve officer, said the fee hike clears the way to not only hire another officer but also help his agency compete on wages with other law enforcement entities in Malheur County and in Idaho.

“We would be able to do 24-7 coverage. We’d have two guys on at night and be able to have immediate back up. Having that would be nice,” he said.

Now, he said, a Nyssa officer usually patrols alone and must rely on back-up from the sheriff’s office or the state police.

“If we are lucky, they are 10 minutes away,” said Armenta.

The police department was stunned in April when reserve police officer Joseph Johnson was shot and killed while responding to a call.

Now, the Nyssa agency has five fulltime officers and one new hire currently in training. A second position remains vacant. The department also employs an ordinance officer.

That means the department must rotate shifts among five people, including Police Chief Don Ballou.

“We work extra shifts,” said Armenta.

Last week, for example, Armenta was filling in for Ballou on his day off because the chief was serving jury duty.

“The more officers we have, the more proactive we can be,” said Armenta.

That’s important as Nyssa and the county grapple with illegal narcotics such as fentanyl.

Fentanyl, he said, propels crime.

“That’s where all theft comes from, people stealing to supply their habit,” he said.

That means, he said, a bigger workload for his department.

Roberto Escobedo, Nyssa city councilor, said he is undecided about raising the public safety fee.

“I’m on the fence because I know there are a lot of residents that I’ve heard don’t want it. They are on a fixed income and I don’t know if we’ve looked at all of our options,” he said.

Escobedo said he’d rather see the issue go to voters.

The earliest such a measure could go onto a ballot would be next May.

“I can say I can afford it, but who knows if my neighbor can?” he said.

Liz Haun-Pharas, owner of Nyssa Mercantile True Value, said she isn’t opposed to the fee hike.

“The city does a lot for me. The emergency services we have here, I’m grateful for and I don’t think it is that much money,” said Haun-Pharas.

Haun-Pharas, though, said people in town on fixed incomes may be impacted by a fee boost.

“A lot of retired and elderly people live well below the poverty level and that (the fee hike) could be tough on them,” said Haun-Pharas.

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

Previous coverage:

Residents deliver feedback to Nyssa City Council on public safety fee hike proposal

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