Sparks continued to fly a day after the Corvallis City Council included a bill to Oregon State University for police services in a property tax levy councilors approved Monday night for the November ballot.
One of the pieces of the $3.3 million-a-year package calls for the addition of three police officers; a fourth officer’s hiring is contingent on OSU bearing the cost, which is about $100,000.
“It is our legal opinion that we cannot just take state funds intended for higher education and give them to another public entity,” said Steve Clark, the OSU vice president for marketing and university relations, said Tuesday.
Councilors, who voted 7-2 to approve the police officer amendment, expressed concerns that the university is not paying its fair share for police service that stems from OSU enrollment growth.
“My constituents say ‘why are we paying the bill?’ ” Ward 7 Councilor Bruce Sorte said during Monday’s debate. “ I don’t know how else to do this.”
“This sends a message,” added Ward 5 Councilor Mike Beilstein.
Clark said “he was surprised and disappointed” by the council action, and that it was the wrong message to send.
“For councilors to say that they need to get our attention is a misstatement,” he said. “No one has to get our attention. We are already involved with our neighbors and city partners. It’s incumbent on the City Council and the university to sit down and talk about what the council had in mind. Without that opportunity, we’re working in the dark.”
Clark noted that the university is in the process of increasing staffing in its student conduct office to deal with problems that arise from off-campus behavior.
Neighborhood livability has been one of the key challenges of the Collaboration Corvallis project, which has been working for more than a year on neighborhood concerns.
City Manager Jim Patterson called Clark after Monday’s vote to advise him of the situation, and the two plan further conversations.
“But we have not been contacted, to my knowledge, by one city councilor,” Clark said. “We need to sit down and understand how this process fits in with the collaboration and how the interests of the city and the university can be served.”
Patterson agreed that the “surprise” factor was unfortunate.
“We agreed early on (in the collaboration) that we would do everything we could not to surprise each other,” said Patterson. “How it came about (in the levy) might be a surprise, but I don’t think that it would be news to anyone that the city and OSU have been in conversations about public safety. We knew we would have to tackle some serious issues and complex stuff. We need to have a good relationship, but these things take time. Sometimes you have bumps in the road, and you have to work through it.”
At least one councilor agreed with Clark’s take on the levy action.
“It’s inappropriate to have a conversation with the university via a levy,” said Ward 4 Councilor Dan Brown, whose district surrounds the OSU campus.
Brown and Ward 6 Councilor Joel Hirsch cast the no votes on the amendment, which was one of more than a dozen that were proposed and debated during the meeting, which lasted 3 hours and 39 minutes.
The levy, if approved by the voters, would tax property owners approximately 82 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. It renews and expands on the 45-cent levy that expires June 30, 2014.
A homeowner with a house valued at $300,000 would pay $245 a year after being assessed $135 under the expiring levy.