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Ashland police left off list for federal funding

The Ashland Police Department will not receive any federal stimulus money to hire a new police officer.

In March, the City Council gave the department permission to apply for $225,000 that would have been spread over three years to cover most of the costs of an extra community policing officer.

Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, recently announced that eight Oregon cities and one county would share more than $5 million in federal stimulus money to hire 21 community police officers.

Grants Pass was the only Rogue Valley community to win a grant. That city will receive $270,000, The Associated Press reported.

A total of 101 communities applied for the federal stimulus money to try to add police officers, according to the AP.

APD Chief Terry Holderness said several criteria were used to decide which communities would get grants.

He said Ashland scored well for having a community policing-oriented department, but the crime rate here is not high and other areas are suffering more economically.

"Medford applied and they didn't get any funding either, and their crime rate is probably worse than ours. For Grants Pass, probably the economic situation in Josephine County is worse than in Jackson County," Holderness said.

Jackson County's unemployment rate was 13.7 percent in June of this year, up from to 7.3 percent in June 2008. Josephine County's unemployment rate was 15.3 percent in June of this year, compared to 8.2 percent in June 2008, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

Although the federal stimulus money is helping some police departments, it also comes with expensive strings attached.

The grant APD applied for would have provided $75,000 each year for three years to pay for an officer. The full cost of salary and benefits for an officer is about $85,000 per year, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

In the fourth year, Ashland would have had to pay for the officer on its own.

The full costs to the city for the one extra officer would have been about $115,000.

An even more significant issue is that the grant would have required the city to maintain its current policing staffing level plus the extra officer for all four years. If the city had a major financial problem, it wouldn't have been able to scale back its police force during those years.

The city of Ashland only avoided staff cuts in the police and fire departments this year by raising property taxes. A full-time police records clerk would have been cut to half-time. Two firefighter/paramedics and the Community Emergency Response Team Coordinator also would have lost their jobs. Other workers in the parks, water and sewer departments were laid off.

The city of Grants Pass was faced with major staff cuts, including the loss of eight police officers and seven firefighters, until voters there approved a two-year levy in May, the AP reported.

Holderness said APD did secure a smaller federal stimulus grant of about $22,000.

Spread over four years, the grant only provides about $5,500 extra each year — not enough to pay for a full police officer.

Holderness said the money will be used to increase park patrols.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.