About the Vienna Police Fee

I would like to share my understanding of the issues surrounding the Vienna Police Fee and its history.

The Police Fee was originated in 1970. In 1974, Vienna City Council enacted a 50 percent discount for senior citizens, reducing their fee from $2.50 to $1.25. In 1984, the police fee increased to $4.05 per month ($2.02 for seniors). Not all seniors take the discount to this day. Thirty-four years later, the Police Fee remains at $4.05 per month and generates about 10 percent of the police department’s budget, or $215,000 yearly. Council approved this amount in the 2018/2019 budget. This money is a budgeted police department line item according to the State Auditor’s Office and is used exclusively for their department. Thus, any reduction would force a budget revision to find money to replace the lost revenue that was allocated in the balanced 2018/2019 budget.

In 2018, after the water and sewer rate increase went into effect, (see https://bit.ly/2Px8nlo for my analysis on the rate hike), Councilman Conley proposed eliminating the police fee for senior citizens. However, his action inadvertently revealed an historical error because the fee discount likely violates state law by preferring some citizens over others without legal justification. As a result, council voted to bring Vienna’s ordinance into compliance with state law by repealing the fee discount on Sept. 27, 2018, in a 4-3 vote.

Various council members proposed unsuccessful amendments to mitigate the elimination of the discount by 1) reducing the police fee by 50 percent for all citizens to $2.02, thereby reducing the police budget by $105,000.00; 2) reducing the police fee to $3 for all citizens, thereby reducing the police budget by $31,500; and 3) reducing the fee for all citizens to $3.50, thereby maintaining the approved police budget. This last action would have reduced the fee to all residents by 55 cents and would raise the police fee on seniors who take the discount by only $1.48, rather than $2.02, per month.

Council also discussed the great concern in the surrounding communities of the lack of certified police officers. Indeed, Parkersburg City Council approved a $2.53-an-hour raise for officers on first reading and approved a $10,000 bonus for certified officers. Likewise, the Wood County Commission approved a $6,000 increase for deputies, raising pay to $40,000 per year, as well as a $10,000 hiring incentive. Some on Council expressed concerned that any reduction in the budget for Vienna’s police department could negatively impact Vienna’s officer retention. Furthermore, as demonstrated by the recent and historic drug arrests, we know that our officers are standing in harm’s way to protect us and deserve our full support.

In conclusion, my opinions are expressed in council meetings, which are live-streamed at every council meeting and saved to the city’s website. Consequently, this letter is merely to provide a more-complete factual history on the Police Fee to better inform the citizens of Vienna who read the recent letter to the editor.

Jim Leach

Vienna City Council