At their June 10 work session, the Eugene City Council passed the community safety payroll tax ordinance that will provide on-going, sustainable funding for city-wide public safety efforts. The Council made adjustments to the ordinance to take into account public and business community feedback, including an exemption for minimum wage earners, a reduced rate for those making $12.01-$15 per hour, and reducing the rate for small businesses with two employees or fewer. There had also been revisions after the May 28 public hearing to ensure funds are used for community safety services, will have an analysis of economic impacts, and that the results will be measured. In seven years the City Council must refer the payroll tax to voters for the tax to continue; if not referred by the Council or approved by the voters, the tax will sunset in 2028.
During their session, the Council also referred a Charter Amendment to voters for November 2019 that, if approved, would keep the rates capped as they were set in Monday’s session so they could not be changed without a public vote.
The community safety payroll tax is expected to generate $23.6 million annually to provide faster, more efficient safety responses, deter crime, connect people to services, engage and help at-risk youth, support more investigations and court services, and add jail beds to reduce capacity-based releases and hold those who commit crimes accountable.
Some major areas of impact include:
- Hiring 40 patrol officers, five detectives, four sergeants, 10 community service officers, 9.5 staff for 911, animal welfare and traffic safety officers, and evidence control and forensic analysts
- Creation a more efficient Fire/EMS 911 triage program and field triage/community response unit
- Expanding prevention and homelessness services including adding emergency shelters, a day center, and funding after school programs at Title 1 schools
- Opening a third Municipal courtroom, expanding community court and mental health court programs that reduce cycling in the system, and adding 10 jail beds and increased jail services to hold those who commit crimes accountable
“The Eugene City Council has been working toward long-term, stable funding for Eugene’s community safety system since February 2018. We will demonstrate what we can accomplish with the community’s support and council’s continued leadership, as well as its trust and confidence in our community staff and the process we started more than a year ago,” said Jon Ruiz, City Manager. “This ordinance will enable us to respond to more calls more quickly, and have the capacity to deter crime, hold chronic offenders accountable and help those who are willing to find a better path.”
As noted by Police Chief Chris Skinner, the public safety system has been under growing stress and the needs of the community have outpaced the capacity leading to an inability to respond to one out three calls for police services, longer response times, and inadequate staffing to prevent crime.
Ordinance Revisions Based on Feedback
The ordinance that was presented at Council June 10 was revised from the May 28 public hearing to address some of the verbal and written public testimony, to respond to feedback from the Council, and to reflect input received from the Oregon Department of Revenue. The revisions included:
- Providing further clarity that payroll tax revenues will supplement, not replace funding currently used for Community Safety Services
- Adding an analysis of the economic impacts of the payroll tax on businesses in the city to the seven-year comprehensive report
- Including specific outcome measures related to increasing the number of minutes per hour officers are available for community policing, reducing the number of calls for service per day to which there is no response, and reducing the time it takes to respond to non-emergency calls for service
- Requiring the City Council to refer the payroll tax to the voters after seven years, if the tax is not referred by Council or approved by voters, the tax would end in 2028
The ordinance for the payroll tax after the June 10 Council vote included a rate of .0044 for employees earning $15.01 or more per hour, and a rate of .0021 for employers located within the City of Eugene. Employees making minimum wage are exempted, and those making $12.01-$15 per hour will be at lower rate of .003, or $8 per month for an employee at $15/hour. Additionally, an employer with two employees or less would receive a reduced rate of .0015 on the first $100,000 of wages.
The measure passed by Council includes critical accountability requirements to ensure the funding is used as directed including:
- Lock Box (separate fund): Funds collected through the payroll tax will be “lock boxed” in a separate fund that is easily identifiable by members of the public, established to track the receipt and use of these funds.
- Annual Performance Review: Specific performance measures have been included in the ordinance and additional measures will be established, tracked, and reported on annually.
- Outside Annual Audit: An outside auditor will review and document the City’s use of the tax funds to determine whether the tax funds proceeds were used in compliance with the terms of the ordinance and how the specific performance measures are being accomplished through use of the payroll tax funds.
- Citizen Advisory Board: The City Manager will convene a Citizen Advisory Board which will prepare an annual report and conduct a comprehensive seven-year review.
- 7-Year Public Vote: After seven years, the public will vote on whether continue the payroll tax.
The purpose of the payroll tax is to raise additional revenue to be able to increase community safety services beyond what the City was able to fund in FY18 (before the $8.6 million “bridge” funding). The ordinance ensures that revenue from the payroll tax will supplement, not replace, existing community safety funding.
Eugene’s community safety services are currently funded by the one-time bridge funding that Council approved for January 2019 through June 2020. The City will be working with the Oregon Department of Revenue, which currently administers the state and local transit district payroll taxes, to implement the community safety ordinance by July of 2020.