WINSTON — The Winston City Council voted unanimously Monday to enact a public safety fee to fund two new police vehicles.
The fee will charge each unit of all properties within the city limits $3 per month, which will be added to sewer bills.
The city has already purchased three new police vehicles, which City Manager Mark Bauer said would arrive in May. One of the new vehicles will be paid for from the city’s general fund.
At the first reading of the ordinance on April 1, city officials said three 2010 Dodge Chargers currently used by the Winston Police Department have far exceeded their life spans and repair costs are too high. They said the fee would allow for long-term funding to replace police vehicles, which the city has never had.
At the meeting, residents filled the city chambers to capacity. Most people who addressed the City Council spoke out against the proposal. They said their monthly sewer bills are already too high and they criticized the city of mismanaging funds.
On Monday, city officials reiterated comments they made at the previous meeting, saying the three oldest police vehicles are unsafe for police officers, and the fee is the most cost-efficient way to fund new vehicles.
“We’ve had a door fall off, we’ve had a wheel fall off, they’re junk,” Bauer said about the three old police vehicles.
City officials said the amount of money needed is too low to fund the vehicles using a bond, which citizens could vote on. City Councilor Scott Rutter said a bond wouldn’t include local nonprofits because they don’t pay property taxes. The fee would include everybody, he said.
The new vehicles cost $52,000 each, according to the report from city staff. The city’s general fund has a balance of $82,435, enough for one full vehicle. The city would pay for the other two vehicles by taking out a $104,000 loan from the sewer plant’s fund at a 2% interest rate, which would be paid back at the end of the fee’s five-year term, according to city officials.
Bauer said only Roseburg has lower monthly sewer bills in the area than Winston. Winston residents pay $47 per month in sewer flat fees.
Susan Chase, a Winston resident who addressed the city Monday, said sewer bills should apply to sewer-related expenses, not funding for police vehicles or other city expenses. She questioned whether the city would enact other fees in the future.
“It doesn’t look good,” Chase said. “Where does it end?”
Bauer said the fee isn’t part of the sewer bill even though it’s collected with sewer bills. He said the city would look into changing the title of the monthly city bill to reduce confusion.
Nanci Staples, a Winston resident who questioned the city officials about the fee at the last meeting, asked if the city attorney looked at the ordinance and whether he recommended any changes. Bauer said the city attorney reviewed the ordinance and didn’t recommend changes.
Staples added the city did not adequately publicize the second, final reading of the ordinance, noting far fewer people attended Monday’s meeting than the last meeting.
“I think we need it,” Staples said about the new police vehicles. “And I think it’s for the people that work for the city as well so that they are in safe environments at all times. My only issue has to do with how this was advertised. The public wasn’t totally aware of what was going on.”
Bauer disagreed with Staples’ suggestion that the public was not aware of the ordinance. He said the city published the City Council agendas on the city website and the agenda was posted outside city hall.
“With the discussion that’s happened on the radio, on the TV, on the website, on the local blog page, do you still believe people don’t know what’s going on?” Bauer asked.
“Yes,” Staples replied.
City Councilor Allen Hobson said residents who want to be aware of the City Council’s actions have the ability to do so.
“If they don’t want to know, you can’t get to them,” Hobson said. “It has been in the newspaper, and then people say, ‘Well I don’t get the newspaper.’ OK, I’m sorry.”