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Employees of B&R Auto Wrecking watch as the Corvallis Fire Department fights a fire at the salvage yard on July 25, 2016. A lack of available firefighters slowed the department's response to the fire. The Corvallis City Council on Thursday made increasing fire staffing one of its highest priorities as it works on a possible renewal of the local option property tax levy.

The Corvallis City Council will start by boosting public safety services as it looks at how to pay for city programs in the future.

A Thursday work session at the Madison Avenue Meeting Room was designed to begin the discussion of what services to put on a renewal of the city’s local option property tax levy. A priority exercise led by City Manager Mark Shepard and Finance Director Nancy Brewer produced results that overwhelmingly favored police and fire services.

So that became the starting point. Ward 9 Councilor Hal Brauner suggested using general fund monies for all of the public safety services on Brewer and Shepard’s laundry list and framing the levy discussion around the budget impact of that decision.

Brewer is charged with inserting the public safety budget items into a projected general fund budget and then providing the council with a figure that shows by how much the budget will be busted. Councilors then will take that figure and discuss a) if it is the right size for a levy; and b) prioritize what non-public safety items deserve inclusion in a levy.

The public safety services on the list included:

• Added police staffing to enable the department to run 10-hour shifts instead of 12-hour ones.

• Added fire staffing to ensure fire and emergency medical crews at each station.

• Increased funding for 911 service.

• Continuing to pay for the school resource officer, community livability officers and fire prevention program currently paid for by the levy.

The current five-year levy, which raises approximately $4 million per year for the services noted above as well as community development and code enforcement positions, library hours, programs and materials, operations at Osborn Aquatic Center and the Chintimini Senior and Community Center, expires June 30, 2019. Corvallis voters approved it on the November 2013 ballot.

The levy assesses property owners at 82 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Thus, a homeowner with property valued at $300,000 pays $240 per year, up from the 45 cents per $1,000 and $135 per year of the three-year levy that ran from 2011-13.

In addition to the current levy, the city is about to finish paying off a general obligation bond that paid for open space and park land. The rate for that bond is $24.5 cents per $1,000. Thus, councilors could renew the levy at about $1.05 per thousand without increasing the current rates for property owners.

Whether the council will do that or not will be clear by April 16, when councilors are scheduled to pass a resolution that puts the levy renewal on the November ballot.

Also unclear is whether a levy that does not include public safety services will be viewed favorably by the voters. Thursday’s work session was popular with city staffers. More than a dozen turned out (not including Shepard and Brewer) because the budget and revenue discussions could have an impact on many city programs.

Brewer and Shepard’s list included all of the items in the current levy as well as programs currently funded by permanent revenue streams, including the sustainability office, recreation programs, economic development, social services funding and street lights. Also on the list were items with no current funding such as subsidies for the Majestic Theatre and deferred parks maintenance.

Six councilors were present or on speaker phone for Thursday’s session. Not present were Ward 1’s Penny York (scheduling conflict), Ward 3's Hyatt Lytle (out of town) and Ward 8’s Mark Page (city officials had no knowledge of the reason for his absence).

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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