Longview’s failed attempt to annex 237 acres of unincorporated land along Ocean Beach Highway may prompt the city to reconsider plans to hire five more police officers, officials said in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election.
Police Chief Jim Duscha, however, said Thursday that the city needs more police even if the city does not annex the area, though the annexation would increase demand for police service.
“What I was stressing is, ‘Now you want to add an additional 1,000 people, this is even more reason why we need more cops,’ ” Duscha said.
Annexation would have added roughly 860 new Longview residents.
About 62% of voters — 169 ballots total — in the proposed annexation area rejected the idea Tuesday night.
City Manager Kurt Sacha Wednesday called the results “disappointing” because annexing the areas would have made it possible for the city to apply its standards to new development at the west side of town. Sidewalks, streetlights, curbs and gutters would have been required, he said.
Opponents often cited stringent city requirements as a reason to stay in the county.
“We live in a democracy. People get to choose, and oftentimes that choice comes through ballot measures. For whatever reasons, they chose to vote in such a way that they liked things the way they were,” Sacha said.
When asked if the election result diminishes the need for five more police officers, Sacha said, “It probably calls to order that we have that conversation again.”
Following a report from Chief Duscha earlier this year, the City Council supported adding the five positions and directed Sacha to come back with a funding recommendation.
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Duscha at the time reported calls for service in the city jumped 53.5% since 1980 while the number of sworn officers in the agency is up 17.6%. Longview has 60 commissioned officers, five fewer than a police consultant recommended more than eight years ago.
Duscha has said other police departments call Longview PD the “meat grinder” because officers respond to a disproportionately high number of calls.
Longview’s 31 patrol officers handle an average of about 1,400 calls each annually. Meanwhile Kelso’s 15 officers handle about 1,270 each and Vancouver’s 96 officers handle about 1,040 calls, Duscha said.
Sacha said he is still working on a funding proposal for five more officers, which would cost about $500,000 annually the first year and then increase to about $700,000 annually as they gain experience and seniority. The city’s current two-year budget is $80.6 million.
Longview already spends a significantly larger share of its budget on public safety than the state average and many cities of a similar size, according to statistics compiled by the state Auditor’s Office. But it also has a higher than average crime rate.
The city is hoping to receive a federal grant which would cover salaries and benefits for all five officers for three years, but the funds are still tied up in a national fight regarding so-called sanctuary cities.
Fire Chief Jim Kambeitz, too, estimated annexation would have added a burden for his department — possibly between 150 and 160 more calls for service annually.
The Fire Department recently added three more firefighter/EMT positions as part of a federal grant. However, Sacha said those positions were more closely related to increasing the city’s ability to staff an ambulance than they were to annexation.
The annexation proposal went to a public vote after a petition halted the City Council’s efforts earlier this year to annex the area and zone the land for a mixture of residential and commercial uses.