Poll Results in Hand, Burien City Council Set to Revisit ‘Kids & Cops’ Initiative
A proposed Kids and Cops Initiative for Burien will again be in the spotlight at tonight’s (April 23) city council study session (download PDF of the packet here, see p. 3).
Council members will take a closer look at a special utility tax levy needed to pay for it – and review for the first time opinions of Burien voters about the proposal.
The Kids and Cops Initiative, if funded by voters, would pay for a two-year police “surge” to “bring intense focus on crime,” according to a Power Point presentation to council members last month.
That would be followed by four years of investments by the city for special programs in the public elementary schools in Burien.
Poll Suggests Qualified Support
According to a recent telephone poll of 300 registered voters in Burien, 53 percent said they are for the initiative, while 43 percent are against it.
Thirty-one percent of those for it expressed “hard” support, and 26 percent of those opposed said they are solidly against it.
Support remained at 53 percent when those surveyed were told the initiative would increase police funding by 30 percent for two years before funding early learning programs in local schools.
But support for the proposed Kids and Cops Initiative dropped to 42 percent when voters were told that funding it with utility taxes would cost the average household $12.57 a month.
If the monthly cost was lowered to $9 a month, 31 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for it, 11 percent more likely to vote against it, and 51 percent said that wouldn’t matter.
General key findings of the poll, conducted by DHM Research, show that “Burien voters find public safety and quality education top community priorities.”
There is, however, “uncertainty about Burien’s public safety image, and even more uncertainty about the quality of Burien’s elementary schools.”
And despite general support for the initiative, “there is concern about the economy, taxes, and government spending.”
Overall, 57 percent said Burien is headed in the right direction, 21 percent said the wrong direction, and 22 percent don’t know.
Investment in “Human Capital”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that when we look back on this era, we’ll ask why didn’t we invest in human capital,” City Manager Mike Martin said when council members first discussed Kids and Cops since it was proposed at their January retreat,
“It’s radical. It’s new. And it’s different,” Martin told them. “Nobody’s doing it … but it can be highly successful if we manage it properly.”
One major concern raised by several council members at that time – in addition to the proposed funding mechanism – was the training and hiring of additional police officers, and what would happen to them when the “surge” ends.
The Kids and Cops Initiative would pay for an additional eight to ten city police officers, at a cost of $1.8-$2.3 million plus another $500,000 for discretionary police department funding, in the first two years of the program.
Noting this reflects another benefit of contracting for police services with the King County Sheriff’s Office, Martin said officers added to the Burien Police Department for the “surge” would come from the sheriff’s office.
These officers, already commissioned when they join the Burien force, would return to the sheriff’s office and go on to other assignments at the end the two-year period,” he added.
During the following four years, funds from the six-year levy “would pay specific programs in [Burien] elementary schools.”
These schools would receive $300,000-$400,000 through direct two-year city grants to specific school programs. The schools and the city would “agree to performance measures” and grants would be renewable after two years.
Utility Tax Levy
The Kids and Cops Initiative would be funded through an increase in the city’s utility tax, which then would go to voters for their approval.
If council members approve the initiative, the tax increase could go on the primary or general election ballot.
The anticipated average cost of a utility tax increase to local homes and businesses, if applied to all five utilities taxed in Burien, would be $12.57 a month.
Funds from the utility tax increase, if approved by voters, would be available to the police department beginning in January 2013 and continue through 2015. School funding would begin in September 2015 and continue through September 2019.
Those revenue sources would be the Seattle City Light franchise fee, the Puget Sound Energy electric utility tax, the Puget Sound Energy natural gas tax, the cable utility tax, and the telephone utility tax.
Why the Initiative?
One reason behind the initiative, according to the city’s presentation, is that “our kids are performing below their potential. This means the community cannot reach its potential.”
The intended “outcome for kids” would include “improved third grade reading scores” and an “increase in [high school] graduation rates.”
Additional funding for cops would be provided because, while Burien’s crime rates are “no worse than our neighbors … it is perceived that way. Regardless of whether it’s true, that affects our image.”
Bennett, Clark Comment
“I support the concept” of the Kids and Cops Initiative, Mayor Brian Bennett told The B-Town Blog.
“One of the reasons I ran for the council is to everything I can to have a healthy environment for children and help them thrive and succeed in our city.”
Bennett said an “overriding message” the council got when updating the city’s vision last year was “to try to help the schools succeed. This is an attempt to do that….
“This is an understanding of what the community would like to see and we can do with that. It is important to make to take steps to improve our schools and make Burien a good environment for children.
“Everything we try to do will be easier if we succeed. If not, it will be harder to attain our vision for the city.”
Councilwoman Rose Clark, who worked for the Highline School District until her retirement two years ago, noted in an interview, “One of the keys to economic development is to improve the educational programming within the walls of our beautiful new schools.
“But coupled with that sound educational programming is the need to have a safe community. The most important issue a city must address is public safety – police and the courts. This takes close to 50 percent of Burien’s budget annually.”
While “crime data do not support the notion that Burien is a high crime area … there is a perception that Burien has a lot of crime,” Clark said. And that perception now “impacts economic development potential negatively therefore ensuring that our tax base will not grow.
“Businesses planning to relocate are affected by the incorrect view that Burien’s crime rate is high.”
A Cops and Kids levy would enable Burien to “target the crime we do have…. We would set a policy of zero tolerance for crime much as they did in New York City in the 1990s.
“When that has been accomplished,” she continued, “we would focus more intently on education … the next four years the entire focus would be on education.”
Burien City Manager Mike Martin said the Kids and Cops Initiative is important “because the central issues that prevent us from moving forward [as a city] is the perception of crime and about our school system.”
Conceding the levy will be a “tough sell” if the council proceeds with the initiative, thus putting it on the ballot, Martin said “it will really require us to help voters understand why this is important.”
He added, “It’s interesting that it resonates with everyone I’ve talked to … but it’s the council’s decision to make.”