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Shady Cove residents to pay for police department

SHADY COVE — City residents will soon pay a monthly fee that will fully fund their police department and bring it to staffing levels not seen since 1998.

After hearing comments from citizens at last week's public hearing, the City Council voted unanimously to create a public service fee of $15 a month. The fee will be charged on the city's monthly utility bills.

The current police department consists of two full-time officers, a part-time chief and a part time clerk. The proposed public safety ordinance will add one full-time officer, a full-time chief and create a new position for a full-time police secretary. The funding also includes two new patrol cars.

After a second reading at the council's April 19th meeting, the ordinance becomes law.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters was on hand in support of the ordinance and of Shady Cove Police Chief Rick Mendenhall.

"You need a proper police department," said Winters. "You have to staff it properly. You have to step up to the plate and back your officers all the way, and if you do, believe me, crime will go down."

"If you don't do business in a proper way, which means adequate personnel, with proper training and proper policies and police cars that don't have 250,000 to 300,000 miles on them, then, you're opening your city to a tremendous potential liability if you lose a court case."

Winters said it was most important that police be visible to the public.

"Officers need to be out on patrol night and day and be seen at different events," he said. "Trust me. The criminals know more about a police officer's schedule than the officer does."

Winters warned that one of the largest drug dealers in the county is operating within a few miles of Shady Cove.

"That kind of stuff goes to areas where there's little or no police protection," he said.

"Everything we do takes time," said Mendenhall. "Pulling fingerprints, getting information to crime labs, testifying in court and cooperating with other departments, they all take time — and that's time when we're not out on the street patrolling."

He said the department is stretched too thin and his officers are burning out from the workload.

Since 2002, when a police levy on the ballot failed, calls for service have increased 47 percent and in every category of crime, the numbers are up.

"I'm doing the best I can with the limited staff I have," said Mendenhall, "but to be honest, I'm just about done myself. I can't keep going on like this."

In a city that has held many contentious discussions over the years, the public hearing was surprisingly calm, with most people speaking in favor of the new fee

Judy Shanrock was the first person to speak, and the first opposed, calling the new fee "a tax that should be on the ballot." She listened carefully to everyone's comments and in the end changed her mind.

"I rescind my objection," she said, as the crowd broke out in laughter and appreciative applause.

City officials said they couldn't guarantee that the fee would never increase, but they felt that future development would provide for any necessary changes. And City Attorney Steve Rich assured them that the ordinance requires the funding to be used exclusively for law enforcement.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com