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Morrison voters shoot down police levy increase

November 7, 2018 GMT

MORRISON – Voters turned back a referendum Tuesday that would have allowed the city to increase the tax levy for police protection.

The vote was 666 “no” votes to 510 “yes,” or 56.63 percent to 43.37 percent.

The exact amount of the increase would have been determined when the equalized assessed valuations are updated, but the extra money was to be used to hire two additional officers. The passage of the referendum would only have authorized the city to change the levy. The City Council must decide how much the increase will be.

The cost of an additional officer had been estimated to come in between $66,000 and $77,000, including benefits.

Historically, the city has had a large gap between what its police protection levy brings in and the actual cost of protecting the city. While police departments generally account for about 25 percent to 30 percent of a city’s general fund, Morrison’s police levy doesn’t even pay for one officer, City Manager Barry Dykhuizen said. The department’s annual budget comes in at about $500,000.

At the city’s current rate of .075 percent, the police levy brings in about $45,000. That rate was at the state’s cap, so the city needed to pass the referendum to put in a new .60 ceiling for the levy.

Prior to the election, Police Chief Brian Melton estimated that the rate would need to be raised to 0.225 to pay for an additional officer, which would bring in between $120,000 and $130,000 total.

Using that number, the owner of a $100,000 home would have seen an increase of between $60 and $75 to their annual tax bill.

The city now has six full-time officers. The failure of the referendum shouldn’t affect the addition of the seventh officer, which will be shared with the Morrison school district. The city had said it could contribute to the school resource officer’s salary within the constraints of its budget, but an eighth officer wouldn’t be possible unless the referendum was passed.

“Police services calls continue to go up, and the community has needed this position since it was lost in 2010,” Melton said in his appeal for the increase.

In August 2016, a week before the deadline, the council had approved a plan to get the question on the November ballot. One month later, a special meeting was called, and a resolution was OK’d to withdraw the levy increase request, mainly because the city was focused on financing the new sewer plant.

Morrison residents were hit with large increases in their water and sewer rates – 62 percent, on average, 4 years ago. Also in 2014, the city’s voters approved a city sales tax increase for infrastructure maintenance.