City tax hike to fund police officers

A four-cent property tax increase will cost the average Salisbury homeowner another $46 next year, but nobody seems to be complaining.

That could be because the money will be used to hire 15 new police officers and have them on the streets by fall 2016, in an effort to force the crime rate under control in the city of 31,000. The tax hike was approved by the Salisbury City Council May 20.

Council President Jake Day later received four messages from the public, and all were in favor. When he mentioned it on Facebook, comments were positive.

City Council agreed to increase the current 89-cent tax per $1,000 of assessed value to 93 cents. The extra $46 per year is based on a home valued at $130,000.

Day praised the unanimous City Council vote and Mayor James Ireton for amending his proposed budget.

In a press release, Ireton explained his plan was to first make a police recruiter position, now held by a sworn officer, into a civilian position and to move one officer back to patrol duty. A budget transfer of $277,000 in the police department would make four dispatch positions, held by sworn officers, into civilian positions, and four officers would be moved back to patrol duty. The budget amendment was to transfer $832,822 to hire 10 new officers who would be trained for patrol.

“It’s something he’s been pushing to get us to do and largely what the police chief and state’s attorney and sheriff and every law enforcement officer told us we had to do, to increase our police manpower. We were all supportive … and the vote was unanimous,” Day said.

“It’s the only way we could significantly take a swipe at the crime rate. We have made progress, but we still are on that list of 100 highest crime rates in the county,” Day said.

The city added four officers about five years ago, and was pleased with the decrease in crime, and he’s curious to see the difference 15 new officers makes.

If hiring the officers had been funded with surplus money instead of a tax boost, the city would have been practically out of money within two fiscal years, Day said. The $9.5 million surplus would have dwindled to $100,000.

The new rate takes effect after July 1. Those who pay quarterly will notice it in October, but it will only be seen by homeowners whose assessable value has gone up. More than 30 percent of home assessments decreased, Day said.

Salisbury’s budget for fiscal year 2015 is $51 million and includes a decrease in water and sewer rates for all homes. The 2014 budget was $50 million.

“I can only think we didn’t get any complaints because this increase was for one purpose, for the police department,” Day said.

“Increasing the police force is the only thing that will be funded with this increase. It’s the only thing people would have been comfortable with.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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