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How will Eugene use the new payroll tax? Questions remain

Eugene's city council approved the payroll tax on June 10, 2019 and collection began on Jan. 1.

Posted: Jun 17, 2021 11:35 AM
Updated: Jun 17, 2021 7:18 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- As the city of Eugene continues to generate revenue through its new community safety payroll tax, many residents and community-based organizations are still wondering how the funds will be dispersed.

The city is expecting the new payroll tax to generate roughly $23.6 million every year by fiscal year 2024. Eugene's city council approved the payroll tax on June 10, 2019, and collection began on Jan. 1 this year.

"We know that there may be some changes to the amount the Community Safety Payroll tax will generate due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. How quickly our economy recovers will affect how much money the payroll tax generates for community safety services. We are closely monitoring the results and it will be important to gain additional collection experience as we refine future revenue estimates for payroll tax revenue expectations long-term," a spokesperson for the city said.

RELATED: CITY WEIGHS HOW TO SPEND NEW SAFETY PAYROLL TAX FUNDS

The city's most recent draft of the plan showed the largest slice of funds, 65%, going to the Eugene Police Department. The remaining funds were slotted to go towards Fire and EMS services, municipal court and prosecution services, homeless services and prevention services, according to Laura Hammond, a spokesperson for the city.

Police Chief Chris Skinner said the department plans to use the funds to speed up its call response time. Currently, there are about 75 Eugene police patrol officers at one time.

"Just as early as this week, I was dealing with a citizen who was unhappy with our response time and as I looked at that I found that we had 30 calls holding when she called 911," Skinner said. "That's not uncommon for us to have as many as 20 to 30 calls pending for our officers."

There is currently no response to roughy 80 calls for service every day, according to Hammond. EPD's non-emergency response time is about 42 minutes.

Chief Skinner said the department would use funds to hire a blend of new patrol officers and community safety officers to respond to lower priority calls.

"We're really thinking about building a team and a job description around the the type of non-sworn, professional staff person that could respond to those calls for service and leave our police officers really focused on the priority one and two calls," Chief Skinner said.

But not everyone in the community supports the decision to give the largest slice of the funding to the police.

MORE: FACING GROWING DEFICIT, CAHOOTS ASKS CITY FOR SLICE OF NEW PAYROLL TAX

KEZI spoke to Zondie Zinke, an administrator on the Defund EPD Facebook page.

"There's actually many different modes in which the public has made very clear that we want our resources going to essential services, not a punitive justice system," Zinke said.

According to Zinke, the vast majority of community members who spoke out during two listening sessions where public comment was heard were in support of allocating a larger portion of the funds towards social services, like helping the homeless.

"A prime way to increase the wellness and safety of our community is to have basic needs being met," Zinke said. "When we have such big funding resources going towards punishment and not safety then we have a system that's not well."

KEZI also spoke to Nikolaj Byrdman, the founder of Lane East Asian Network.

"We believe the community safety payroll tax budget, a whopping 65% of which currently goes towards EPD and 15% towards courts, prosecutors and jail beds, should be reallocated to support housing and homelessness services," Byrdman said. "What people fail to realize is that even if EPD received 0% of the community safety payroll tax, they would still be overfunded with over $66 million from the city's general funds. Our community flourishes by supporting those with the least amount of power, not by criminalizing their existences. Reallocating funds away from EPD and towards housing and homelessness services is simply the right thing to do."

The Budget Committee will reconvene for at least two more meetings to discuss a recommendation to the City Council for the FY22 Supplemental Budget, in relation to the allocations of the Community Safety Initative fund and American Rescue Plan Act funds. These meetings are expected to happen in early fall.

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