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SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Sedro-Woolley’s decision to ask voters to approve a property tax increase to support the city’s police department was a hot topic Wednesday in a forum of mayoral, City Council and school board candidates.

Most candidates support the city’s effort, on the ballot for the Nov. 5 election as Proposition 1, to give residents a direct say in whether they are willing pay to add patrol officers and a school resource officer to the police department.

One incumbent candidate and one challenger offered dissenting views.

“I support hiring three or four policemen, but I don’t like the way we’re doing it,” Councilman Charles “Chuck” Owen said. “I don’t like reaching my hands in people’s pockets.”

Owen is running against challenger Corrin Hamburg.

Also opposed to Proposition 1 is mayoral candidate J. Dennis O’Neil, who is challenging incumbent Julia Johnson for the job.

“I’m not for it in any way, shape or form,” he said, later adding that he fears taxpayers will next be asked to support “a diaper fund or something.”

Johnson, Hamburg, and the other four council candidates each said the need for more police officers is clear. Some said asking voters is a responsible way to approach the issue.

“The city has grown ... and it is important that we provide the safety that is needed in this community,” Johnson said.

Sedro-Woolley School Board President Christina Jepperson, who is running for re-election, spoke in support of the tax increase in terms of what a school resource officer would mean for the community.

She said a resource officer could become someone students trust with tough or even life-and-death issues.

“If there’s something they are worried about — maybe their friend has drugs in the car or their friend is unconscious in the bathroom — I want that resource (officer) to be there,” she said.

Eric Lodjic, who is running against Jepperson, was not present at the forum.

Glenn Allen, who is challenging incumbent Pola Kelley for her City Council seat, so strongly supports Proposition 1 that he mentioned it during his opening statement.

“I’m really an advocate for the police Proposition 1; I think we need more police,” he said.

When asked about it specifically, he said: “With the growth that we are experiencing ... public safety is my No. 1 concern.”

On the issue of potential pay increases for members of the City Council, most of the candidates said they view the need to provide more funding to the police department as significantly more important.

“Personally I would much rather money go towards more officers than raising the salaries of the council members,” said Brendan McGoffin, who is running for City Council against Dave Bates.

Bates and McGoffin said they found a proposal to increase council salaries from $500 to $900 per month worrisome, and it was part of why they decided to run for office.

While Bates and McGoffin are in agreement on that issue, those running in wards 4 and 5 offered differing opinions.

In the Ward 4 race, Kelley said she would like to see a pay increase and recently proposed pay of $600 per month. Allen, who served on the council in the late 1990s when the pay was $50 per month, disagreed.

“I perceive this job as public service ... I think $500 is fair compensation,” he said. “I personally don’t think money should be the driving force for someone wanting to do this job.”

In the Ward 5 race, Owen said compared to council wages in Burlington and Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley’s $500 per month is low and he feels expenses such as driving to meet with constituents are not being considered.

“Gasoline is not cheap and I am not a rich man,” he said.

Hamburg said she sees the position as a public service role and would not pursue a pay increase or support one of extreme proportions, such as the near-doubling proposed earlier this year.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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