Bothell goes to voters for public safety investments

A levy and bond on the November ballot would increase police and fire funding.

Bothell is asking voters to decide the city’s public safety future when they vote on two public safety measures this November.

Proposition 1 is a 12-year levy lid lift that would fund staffing, operating and program needs, including 13 additional police officers, six firefighters, five police civilians and two staff in information services and facilities to support public safety departments. The cost is 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, meaning it will cost the owner of a $500,000 home about $220 per year.

Proposition 2 is a 20-year capital bond that would fund the complete rebuild of two fire stations (Canyon Park and Downtown), including public safety upgrades, technical modernization and energy efficiency to accommodate current and future growth. It would cost the owner of a $500,000 home about $130 per year (26 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation).

The Bothell Police Department especially is struggling with emerging challenges such as increasing drug use, mental illness, homelessness, property crime, cybercrime and school safety issues. The department’s staffing levels haven’t really changed since 2008. While Bothell’s population has increased by 11,500 people in the last 10 years, it has added three police officers and no new firefighters.

“During the Great Recession, the city operated by basically using its reserves,” said Mayor Andy Rheaume. “For the most part, we’ve been static while our population has skyrocketed.”

The council also opted not to increase property taxes, though it could have raised them 1 percent each year, to help residents through a tough financial time. But that did impact the city’s budget, causing a “structural imbalance” between expenditures and revenues.

“We can’t make these increases to the police department without asking people for money,” Rheaume said.

Rheaume said that the requirements of policing have also changed; for example, a driving under the influence (DUI) charge used to take three hours to process, but now, it takes seven or more. Rheaume said that he went on a ride along with a police officer and was struck by how much the opioid epidemic is impacting their work. He said that the city and its police want to be more proactive about preventing crime, but that they don’t have the resources.

The levy would add a new patrol swing shift, to increase the number of officers, maximize police visibility and deter and address criminal activity during busy times. It would also fund a new community crime reduction team to focus on early investigation and coordinated response to recurring trends such as drug houses, traffic incidents and property crimes like car prowls, mail and identity theft and burglaries.

Rheaume said that he is concerned about school safety, and noted that the levy adds additional police staff to keep kids safe.

Bothell police are currently part of a pilot program for “navigators,” mental health professionals who patrol with officers to intervene and connect individuals with mental health crises, addiction and/or homelessness with resources and support. The levy would add a new navigator to the police force, along with six more firefighters, a new aid car and a new probation officer for the municipal court, as the current officer monitors more than twice the recommended amount of cases.

No one signed up to be on the con committee to oppose the measures, and the city council voted unanimously to place them on the ballot. A levy needs a simple majority (50 percent, plus one) to pass. Bonds are a little more difficult, as they require a 60 percent threshold.

Rheaume said that the second measure is needed because Bothell’s fire facilities are nearing the ends of their useful lives. They need to be rebuilt to industrial, rather than residential standards, and could use an update on their living quarters, safety features and technology.

“These fire stations were built at a time when we didn’t understand cancer,” Rheaume said. “It’s important that those guys aren’t breathing [carcinogens] when they’re working. We want people to be safe when they work for the city, especially the firefighters who are saving us.”

Rheaume said that remodeling the facilities was considered, but the council opted for a complete replacement. The new facilities should last 30-50 years.

“They just get worn out, like office buildings,” he said. “They also need modernization…which would be a huge undertaking in the existing buildings.”

The current fire stations have some quirks: They still have single-pane windows; they don’t have sprinkler systems and they don’t have industry-standard separate sleeping quarters for male and female firefighters.

Communications officer Barbara Ramey said that it made sense to the city to place both measures on the ballot at the same time.

“We need more firefighters to serve North Bothell, but there’s no place for them to sleep right now,” she said.

The new Canyon Park fire station will also include a police satellite office to serve North Bothell residents.

“Having a police and fire service that matches our population is really important to us and this levy will get us there,” Rheaume said.

Residents can find more information about the measures and the election at Ballots are mailed on Oct. 17 and the general election is Nov. 6. There will be a King County dropbox at Bothell City Hall, and one for Snohomish County at the QFC on Bothell-Everett Highway.

This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 2 to correct a misspelling of the mayor’s last name and clarify the amount of staff that would be added by the levy.