Way to go, City Councilor Vanessa Nordyke.
Your responses to questions asked by the Salem Reporter about the payroll tax approved by the City Council on a narrow 5-4 margin without a vote of the people are a great example of speaking truth to power.
The Salem Reporter sent questions to the four councilors who wanted Salem citizens to vote on the payroll tax. Only Vanessa Nordyke and Jose Gonzalez responded in time for publication.
Here's two of the questions, along with Nordyke's responses. I've highlighted in red her comments about the City of Salem losing public trust.
If you believe some source of new revenue is needed, what would you propose and how much would that raise?
Given the ever-changing cost of inflation, housing, and gas, the moment you quote a number it becomes out of date. I can tell you one thing: I would not propose a payroll tax that bypasses the voters! I would’ve held listening sessions with the community and business leaders about how best to raise revenue rather than unilaterally passing a payroll tax. Unfortunately, people are so outraged by the payroll tax vote that anything the city says now is likely to fall on deaf ears. Trust has been broken.
Do you believe councilors and city leaders have done enough to seek a regular source of state funding to compensate the city for losses from non-taxable state property in city limits? If not, what would you do differently?
Not even close. Most people have no idea that city leadership tried to get state funding. They missed opportunities to invite city councilors, local leaders and voters to join forces. The city could have rallied the people to write letters to legislators and sign up to testify at the Oregon Capitol. Residents could have called their legislators to take action. We could’ve come together as a community to make the ask, but that’s just not how the city does things.
Had the city done this, the response from lawmakers might’ve been quite different. Even if lawmakers still said no, the city and its residents would have emerged united in purpose, with a shared understanding of our budgetary reality. At that point, we could have met as a community to decide where we go from here. But the city didn’t use that path. Instead, the city unilaterally passed the payroll tax and refused to even continue the July 10 hearing to allow for more testimony.
When we include the public, we gain trust. When we exclude the public, we lose trust.
Instead of inviting the public into a transparent, meaningful, and inclusive discussion of our budgetary challenges, most residents felt blindsided by the payroll tax.
City government struggles with transparency. Outreach, transparency and community engagement are rock bottom on the city’s priority list. The city’s “we know best” mentality is exactly why people are outraged over the passage of the payroll tax without taking it to the voters.
I couldn't agree more. The payroll tax fiasco shows that city officials do indeed have a "we know best" mentality that fosters a mistrust of citizen involvement. Now the City of Salem faces an uphill battle in getting voters to approve the payroll tax in the November election.
As Nordyke repeatedly says above, it's tough to get citizens to trust city government when that government didn't trust the citizens enough to ask them to vote on the payroll tax. A business group had to gather about 13,000 signatures of Salem voters for a referendum petition to put the tax on the November ballot.
Now that's citizen involvement.
Nordyke also made some excellent points about ways the City of Salem could be making the Police Department more efficient and effective, which could eliminate the need for the police funding included in the payroll tax proposal.
She's a strong advocate for a civilian-based mobile crisis unit similar to the highly successful CAHOOTS program in Eugene that has markedly reduced the number of 911 calls responded to by police officers.
In response to a Salem Reporter question, Nordyke said:
I agree with funding police as a general rule. But, I don’t agree that we should be paying police officers to form a homeless outreach team. The city could pay crisis workers to perform homeless outreach at a lower rate than police officer salaries.
...Despite my urging, the city considered but ultimately rejected including $300,000 for a mobile crisis unit (MCU) in the payroll tax. The payroll tax will raise over $27 million a year in additional revenue (if it is passed by the voters). Council discussed including $300,000 out of that $27 million to help fund an MCU. The final payroll tax voted upon by Council excluded the MCU funding.
...An MCU is a 911-responsive unit of trained mental health workers and crisis workers who can respond to calls involving mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness. Mobile crisis units free up first responders and emergency rooms for higher acuity 911 calls. This payroll tax is being touted as a tax designed to address homelessness and public safety. Without an MCU, this tax fails to address a big chunk of our homelessness and public safety needs.
...This payroll tax prioritizes policing homelessness over ending homelessness. Policing homelessness doesn’t reduce homelessness, but it sure does cost a lot of taxpayer money.
I would use the last several annual surveys of City residents as a guide towards prioritizing what to keep and what to cut. Time and time again, those surveys told us to make addressing homelessness our top priority. The payroll tax doesn’t do that. People feel that the city isn’t listening to them.
There's a simple reason people feel that way. They're right. The city isn't listening to them.