By Claire Byun
The Mid-City Security District voted Thursday to increase their fees by 10 percent in order to keep up with rising patrol costs and police salaries. The board approved the hike after inflated insurance rates and patrol salaries pushed the projected 2017 budget to more than $1 million.
The fee increase means Mid-City homeowners will now pay $220 per year – starting in January – and businesses will shell out $330 at tax time. This is the first time the district has raised the fee in the eight years since its inception.
“It’s not good news, but part of it is inflation,” said Ben Misko, a board member.
The district has to budget for salaries of patrol officers – roughly $40 per hour – which have increased about 15 percent since 2009. The tax district also must consider increased costs of vehicles and maintenance needed for those officers, as well as money for any unanticipated costs. Jim Olsen, district commissioner, said the board had to find a way to pay its officers without cutting patrols to the bone.
Patrol hours will be reduced from an average of 36,000 per year to about 25,000, though there’s a cushion that will most likely push the average to more than 30,000 hours, Olsen said. There will still be an officer on duty at all times, but non-peak crime hours will only host one or two officers instead of the average four per shift.
Patrol hours were cut to save on costs, since officer payrolls were the biggest inflation facing the board, Olsen said.
“There will be fewer officers out there but there will always be someone out there at all times,” Olsen said.
The 10 percent increase gives the district another $110-112,000 to cover the bills, but the board is also planning on collecting from any Mid-City homeowners who do not currently pay the fee. Some homeowners just fell through the cracks while other properties are mislabeled, but officials are working to make sure everyone pays their fair share, Misko said.
Identifying those properties has already raised about $30,000 extra for the district, Misko added.
“There’s people that aren’t paying the security district fee that should be, because they’re taking advantage of the patrols,” he said.
MCSD’s estimated 2017 budget totals $1,053,000. About $50,000 is set aside for vehicle costs and another $53,000 is slated for operating expenses.
Unlike years past, the district has a $400,000 “cushion” to pay for expenses until the city reimburses the organization in March. The district’s largest surplus was in 2009, when the tax was already in place but officers were not patrolling the streets yet; that surplus totaled more than $1 million.
Officials have been working to reduce that “cushion” over the years and are now much closer to a balanced budget. But since the surplus is reduced, the overall budget has to tighten up.
“If this forces us to operate a little tighter and see what kind of changes we need to make, then so be it,” said Jay Brinkmann, commission member.
Since patrols will be reduced, Olsen asked for more citizen cooperation to help keep crime rates stable. He urged everyone to lock their cars and homes and refrain from leaving valuables and weapons in vehicles. While most other crimes have trended downward in Mid-City, auto theft remains steady, according to crime statistics.
The security district is up for a renewal vote in 2019, and Olsen said the board is discussing replacing the flat fee with a tax based on millage rates. That way, people who pay more for their properties will pay more for the security district, and “that makes it fair across the board.”
Olsen said MCSD will get the word out about the fee hike over the next few weeks so no one is surprised at tax time. For now, he said, patrols remain the same and the security district has the same original goal: a safer, cleaner, more secure Mid-City.