Grants Pass holds meeting to discuss public safety funding proposals

GRANTS PASS, Ore.– The City of Grants Pass is looking for ways to fully fund public safety on the upcoming ballot.

The two options being considered right now are a general sales tax and a utility fee.

Last year, Grants Pass voters approved a levy that raised about half the money they need to fully fund public safety.

But the city may have an uphill battle convincing voters to approve a new tax or fee.

Grants Pass Police Chief Warren Hensman said, “I feel tired, and I feel like I’m wearing the weight of the organization.”

Grants Pass Police and Fire said they’re in desperate need of funding in order to serve their community properly.

Voters have already struck down five different funding options since 2008, including a number of taxes and proposed funding districts.

City officials are presenting residents with a number of options to fill the gap for 2025, which is around $4.5 million.

City Councilor Valerie Lovelace said, “everything that we’ve tried, we’ve tried, and it’s gone on eight years and here we are. When I hear people say ‘how did this happen?’, this has been a process and it started clear back in 2015”

Grants Pass has made cuts to public safety in 2022 and 2023 to help satisfy its budget, but both police and fire chiefs said they can’t undergo more cuts.

Almost 80% of voters in Grants Pass are backed the renewal of a police and fire levy in November, but that only accounts for half of the money the city needs to cover its $16.5 million deficit.

To cover the rest, the city is proposing a general sales tax or a utility fee.

City Councilor Brian DeLaGrange said, “the sales tax, as far as the options we’ve been talking about, is the one that spreads the funding burden across the largest number of people, so I think that’s the reason it’s still on the table.”

The rate for the general sales tax is yet to be determined, but city officials estimate a 1.5% tax would be enough to fund public safety.

Josephine County officials proposed a seasonal sales tax last year, but it was not approved by voters.

A transportation public safety fee was also proposed, which would cost around $12 per month for a single family home to fully fund public safety.

Grants Pass Resident Victoria Marshall said, “to me the utility fee, I was looking at all of them and I was thinking, this is the only one that makes sense to me.”

The city council has not made a decision to put any of the options on the ballot yet.

Thursday’s meeting was only to hear the public’s feedback on the proposals.

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NBC5 News reporter Derek Strom is from Renton, Washington. He recently graduated from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communications at Washington State University with a degree in Broadcast News and a minor in Sports Management. He played in the drumline with the WSU marching band. These days, he plays the guitar and piano. Derek is a devoted fan of the Mariners, Seahawks, and Kraken.
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