Kennewick's priorities for the next two years will include putting the new revenue from the public safety sales tax to the use it was intended -- getting more police on the streets.
City Manager Marie Mosley told the city council earlier this week that it will take two years to add the 12 new police positions paid for by the tax.
Police Chief Ken Hohenberg won't start hiring for the new positions until the city starts receiving money from the higher sales tax, he said. That will happen in March, because of the delay in state collections and distribution to local governments.
"We work real hard to make sure we hire the right people," he said.
Hiring is an intensive, time-consuming process. Candidates must pass civil service testing, a background check, a polygraph, a psychological analysis and a medical exam, Hohenberg said.
And then the department has to wait for an opening in a police academy. There isn't money to pay for enough 19-week police academies to meet the needs of law enforcement agencies across the state, said Hohenberg, who is a commissioner for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
The police department is hiring for three vacant existing positions, not including one where Hohenberg has made a conditional job offer. That candidate won't be able to get into the police academy until January.
There will be quite a bit of competition to find the right police officers, because other Benton County law enforcement agencies also are adding positions, Hohenberg said. And Hohenberg likely will have to find five more people in the next two years to fill positions that become vacant because of retirements.
All 12 new positions paid for by the sales tax will be uniformed police officers on the street, Hohenberg said. That is where the need is. The goal is for police to be able to be more proactive and more responsive to non-emergency calls.
Once Kennewick has filled the new positions, the patrol team would shift to six 10-person squads instead of four 12-person ones, allowing for a mid-shift covering 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., to put more police on the streets when there tends to be the largest call volume.
The sales tax also will pay for an assistant city attorney position and two support staff, and free up money for three more firefighters.
The city also will work on how to strategically staff the fire stations, including how to bring the proposed fifth station online, Mosley said. The goal is to improve fire and emergency medical service response to city residents and businesses.
The council has made it clear that it wants to create a sustainable operating and capital budget for more than just the next two years the upcoming budget will cover, Mosley said.
She will try to bring her goals to the council in October, she said. The council already will tackle the two-year budget during an Oct. 28 workshop meeting.
Mayor Steve Young said the city also needs to work on code enforcement, a key part of community safety. It will become more critical as the community continues to grow and neighborhoods shift.
The city also will continue working on how to strategically fund the city's capital needs in the next 25 years. The city's Blue Ribbon Commission, comprising community volunteers, is looking at how to pay for projects that have been identified as critical to the city's future, Mosley said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org