Everett Police Department officers Kevin Davis, left, and Mike Bernardi, right, wait for the light to change Feb. 13 on the corner of Hewitt Avenue and Hoyt Avenue as the walk through downtown Everett. The city council declined to vote to accept a $6 million U.S. Dept. of Justice grant to hire 16 more officers for three years, which some council members worried would further bind the city’s strapped budget. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file )

Everett Police Department officers Kevin Davis, left, and Mike Bernardi, right, wait for the light to change Feb. 13 on the corner of Hewitt Avenue and Hoyt Avenue as the walk through downtown Everett. The city council declined to vote to accept a $6 million U.S. Dept. of Justice grant to hire 16 more officers for three years, which some council members worried would further bind the city’s strapped budget. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file )

Council considers federal grant, but can Everett afford it?

The $6 million Department of Justice money would cover only some of the cost for 16 new police officers.

EVERETT — The Everett City Council again could consider accepting a $6 million federal grant Wednesday that would help pay for 16 more police officers for the next few years but would obligate the city to millions more beyond that.

The federal funds wouldn’t cover the full cost of hiring all of the new officers. The grant also requires the city to pick up the cost on its own for at least 12 months after the three-year grant funding ends.

Last week the council declined to vote on the U.S. Department of Justice money. Councilmember Scott Bader put it to the whole legislative body, but no council member seconded his motion. The deadline to accept it is Sept. 8, before the following scheduled city council meeting.

That drew the attention of the Everett Police Officers Association, which thanked Mayor Cassie Franklin for lobbying in Washington, D.C., for the grant on its Facebook page last week.

“City Council we hear you loud and clear,” the post concluded.

The inaction was about financial stability and fiscal prudence, not a vote against bolstering the 206 Everett Police Department officers in the city’s 2020 budget, some city council members said.

“At first blush, it’s a good thing,” Councilmember Scott Murphy said during the city meeting. “But like so many things, timing is everything. Had we received this grant several years ago, under normal circumstances, I think it’s something we all might have felt better about.”

For years, Everett has faced a structural deficit for its budget because fixed costs, including labor and service delivery (such as water and sewer), keep rising and the city’s revenue (largely from sales and property taxes) hasn’t keep pace.

A plummet in spending during the pandemic this year, combined with the ongoing revenue woes, have created a projected $18 million budget deficit for 2021.

The city already cut its budget through a combination of freezing new hires, layoffs, suspending travel and voluntary separations. Everett’s fire and police department budgets mostly were kept intact.

“We’re in a budget crisis right now,” Murphy said. “Obviously our police put their lives on the line on a day-to-day basis and I’ve always made police and fire, public safety type expenditures a top priority. But at the moment, we have a financial crisis and we still haven’t quite figured out how to navigate through this over the next few years.”

Everett’s police union said the budget strain shouldn’t negate the grant’s benefits.

“While we can’t ignore that there will be a financial obligation to the city,” the Everett Police Officers Association wrote on its Facebook page, “we also must recognize the great opportunity $6 million dollars in federal funding represents to augment our existing staffing, which will allow us to better respond to many of the quality of life issues that have been raised by our residents and business owners over the years.”

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman had planned to put the 16 new officers in visible roles in the bike, patrol and traffic units in response to residents’ requests, he said.

Mayor Franklin put public safety as a major goal for this year, which included hiring 24 more police officers in the next year or two.

“The growth of our police force has not kept pace with the growth of our city’s population and we have a real need for more resources to address safety and build relationships in our community,” she said in a statement.

That was before city leaders across the country, including Seattle, began facing pressure to defund law enforcement and invest in social services that help marginalized people often of color. That push was spurred by protests over the killings of Black people by law enforcement officers, which in turn spawned its own movement to “Back the blue.”

But even in Everett the need for additional police is in question.

“Other than hearing anecdotal information and questions about public safety and people are not feeling safe, the reality is that we are safer than ever,” Councilmember Brenda Stonecipher said during the city meeting. “Our perception is that we’re less safe than we’ve ever been.”

In Everett, property and violent crime cases handled by the police department dropped between 2008 and 2018, according to FBI data.

Templeman said that’s due to the department’s increased staffing and resources since he’s been police chief.

“We’ve been successful in that endeavor partly because of the fact that we’ve had the necessary resources on the street to do that,” he said.

If the Everett City Council authorizes the mayor to sign the grant agreement, it would not require the city to spend the full amount.

The Everett City Council has a budget workshop scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. People can attend virtually by phone or video.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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