By Mayor Andy Rheaume
Public safety is one of the city of Bothell’s highest priorities. Our residents value living in a community where they feel safe to enjoy downtown businesses and restaurants, attend community events and explore our outdoor spaces.
But, increasingly, residents are expressing concerns about changes in the community and whether our city can remain safe in the midst of dramatic population growth and increasing societal challenges. There is a growing concern about illegal drugs and accompanying petty crimes. These demands on public safety services are straining resources.
Over the past year, we’ve been taking a hard look at the challenges facing public safety – police, fire, EMS and the court – and what is needed to meet them.
The City Council is looking to our residents for guidance as we consider alternatives to stabilize public safety funding, including a potential ballot measure. If we were to choose to submit a proposal to voters in November 2018, we would need to make decisions about that in June. Visit bothellwa.gov/publicsafety to learn more and make your voice heard.
The good news is our emergency responders and court staff do a fantastic job. You can expect a speedy response when you call 911 in Bothell (which isn’t always true in other communities).
But we’ve stretched our public safety services to the limit. Consider these facts:
Over the past 10 years, the number of police officers and fire fighters has stayed flat even as the population has grown by nearly 50 percent – and continues to grow.
Our fire fighters responded to more than 6,300 incidents last year.
Our fire stations are more than 30 years old.
The technology and other tools needed to support police, fire and courts are outdated.
While new growth in part pays for increased needs for services, it doesn’t pay for all of it. One-time development revenue can be helpful in the short term, but voter-approved legislation limiting taxing requires the city to ask voters what they want for their community.
It is essential, of course, that the city be efficient with taxpayer’s dollars. But emergency services are driven by demands – we can’t cut back the number of 911 calls that are made or the number of court appearances that need to be scheduled for defendants. And, the opportunities to create efficiencies are limited when 85 percent of the city’s overall budget is for ongoing payroll – the salaries of the people who provide direct services to our citizens.
In looking for other funding sources, we’re also challenged by the fact that Bothell – like many other cities – is still digging out of the Great Recession. To ease the burden on taxpayers, the city chose to forego the 1 percent property tax increase for six consecutive years during the recession and relied on financial reserves during that time. That financial strategy is not sustainable and now threatens the city’s future ability to provide services across the board.
We need your feedback to shape our future. Please go to www.bothellwa.gov/PublicSafety, get informed and get involved.