Heavy machinery rests at the construction site for the upcoming, 104,000-square-foot headquarters of the Salem Police Department. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

Salem’s future funding for police, firefighters, the library and other public services will headline Salem City Council on Monday.

Salem leaders will discuss a new fee on utility bills and a tax on wages for people who work within city limits. They will also discuss whether to let Salem voters decide on them.

Both ideas aim to bolster the general fund, which is forecast to run short in coming years of covering the city’s bills. Increases in wages, healthcare and retirement benefits are pushing up city costs.

The two ideas could raise $16 million per year for Salem, according to a recent staff report. City Manager Steve Powers is recommending that the city council enact both.

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As proposed, an operating fee could tack on a $10 fee to utility bills for homeowners and $30 for non-residential ratepayers. Apartments and the like could be charged $8 per unit. Low-income residents could be discounted.

A payroll tax could take less than 1 percent of gross wages for all workers in the city, the staff report said. Low-income workers may not be taxed. Because the tax is based on a percentage – as opposed to a flat rate – it would rise with inflation.

The Eugene City Council recently approved a payroll tax, but some residents are hoping to get it put on a ballot for a general vote, according to the Eugene Register-Guard.

Like Eugene, Salem leaders may build tiers into the payroll tax to levy a slightly higher percentage from workers who make more money. In its proposal, Eugene would take 0.3 percent of wages from workers who make less than $15 per hour, and 0.44 percent from workers who made more than $15 per hour. Minimum wage workers would pay nothing.

Salem’s tax could be different. The staff report said Salem could still reach its $8 million goal by taxing 0.2 percent on the low end and 0.35 percent for workers who make more than $15 per hour. Minimum-wage earners would pay no tax.

On Monday, council could start putting the revenue moves into play, or it could send them to voters next May. No new fee or tax will be implemented by a decision at the meeting, the staff report said.

Rising costs for new police headquarters

Construction of the new headquarters for the Salem Police Department will cost $54.7 million – more than $11 million more than planned when voters passed its bond in May 2017 – according to a staff report.

Salem leaders last July dipped into urban renewal funds to cover cost increases and Monday they will consider giving another shot-in-the-arm worth almost $5 million.

Staff reports say the higher price tag is due to the costs of subcontractors – like plumbers, carpenters, electricians – and the costs of steel, wood and other materials that have risen. But the total cost of the building will also include “soft costs” like permits, furniture and more.

Salem Reporter reported in March that those costs could raise the total cost to around $73 million – an 18 percent increase from the original, $61.8 million bond.

“The police station will need additional urban renewal funding to complete the project described to voters,” Powers said in a July 3 message. “The booming construction market continues to increase costs faster than predicted. … Urban renewal is the best choice to close the remaining gap. Without the funding, further and immediate cuts to the project will be needed.”

According to the staff report, the urban renewal dollars would pay for the stations’ community room, public restrooms, plaza and public art.

Urban renewal is funded by property taxes in specific areas. The money can only be spent on projects in those specific areas.

Library policies under review

The council also is scheduled to discuss the Salem Public Library amid scrutiny from some residents who continue to say too many library items will removed under recent policy changes.

The library collection grew in May, according to a new report, adding a net total of 2,061 items.

“A majority of materials evaluated were not removed,” according to the report. “Of the small percentage of items removed, many of these items are still accessible in the library or through (the regional library system), or superseded by newer editions.”

Opponents have said the library’s policies will lead to books being extraneously taken off shelves. Opponents have also said the library has already reduced its catalog considerably over the years.

Proponents have said the policies help keep the library in tune with the community’s habits and desires at the library.

In April, city council asked the library to stop removing adult nonfiction books – except those in bad condition – and track how its collection development policy impacts items on its shelves.

On June 12, the citizen-led Library Advisory Board voted unanimously to support the library’s policies. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, troy@salemreporter.com or @TroyWB.

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