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Originally published August 20, 2014 at 7:53 PM | Page modified August 21, 2014 at 11:30 AM

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Mayor to seek levy to pay for police and fire services

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says a public-safety levy could help pay for police officers, fire equipment and a new Police Department computer system.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A levy for basic government services? WTF? MORE
Why not consolidate all taxes that are currently being paid and those on the wish list of the Mayor and ask the voters... MORE
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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he will ask the City Council this fall to begin planning for a levy to help pay for police and fire service.

Murray mentioned the possibility of the new measure Wednesday, a day after a federal judge scolded the Seattle Police Department for seeking a delay in the development of a sophisticated computer system to track use of force, stops and other aspects of police work.

“The judge is right. The delays have been unacceptable,” the mayor said at a City Hall news conference. “The sort of technology we need to do real-time policing ... is going to cost. It’s going to cost a lot.”

The mayor offered no specifics on how much money voters might be asked to cough up.

Building the computer system is part of the police department’s July 2012 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to curb excessive force and biased policing. A report late last year estimated the city will need to spend about $12 million to build the system and an additional nearly $1 million annually to maintain it.

“We are going to ask (the) council during the budget process to help us begin planning for a future public-safety levy,” Murray said.

The council will spend much of the next month crafting a budget for 2015 and 2016 with the city facing a projected $25 million shortfall in its general fund.

“We have fire and police issues that are going to cost, and cost a lot,” Murray said, identifying the computer system, as well as a need for new police officers and upgrades to Fire Department equipment and facilities as major needs.

The city in 2007 adopted a Neighborhood Policing Plan that called for adding 105 new officers between 2008 and 2012, but the Great Recession hampered hiring.

To sell the council and voters on a levy in part to pay for hiring cops, Murray likely would need to address how they are currently allocated.

In June, after the appointment of new Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, council President Tim Burgess and Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the public-safety committee, said the council had set aside $500,000 to help O’Toole review her department’s structure, decision-making processes and resource deployment.

The force has an annual budget of about $290 million and a monthly average of 1,255 officers in service, but just 620 cops were assigned to handle calls out of the city’s five precincts as of Sept. 1, 2013, Burgess and Harrell noted.

Murray on Wednesday said O’Toole is conducting “an assessment on where folks are in the department and what they’re doing.”

There are existing levies set to expire soon. The current parks levy is up at the end of this year, and the Bridging the Gap transportation levy will end in 2015.

But voters earlier this month approved a Metropolitan Park District with a property tax double the amount of the expiring parks levy, and the November ballot will include prekindergarten and transit proposals adding up to more than $87 million in annual taxes and fees.

Daniel Beekman: or 206-464-2164.

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