SH justified in billing Lebanon for cops

To some, it might appear mean-spirited for the City of Sweet Home to bill our neighbor, Lebanon, $60,000 for the training costs Sweet Home paid for two officers who took better-paying jobs in Lebanon.

It’s not. It’s a legitimate move by a beleaguered police department that has more than its share of financial hurdles to overcome. It’s also the right thing to do for Sweet Home taxpayers.

As we reported last week, Lebanon has been billed for $60,522.84. That includes $46,132.33 in training costs for Officer Chad Christenson and $14,390.51 for Taylor Jackson. Both, along with Officer Justin McCubbins, joined Lebanon’s police force in January.

A state law, passed in 2009, allows for this. Specifically, the law allows the city to recoup 100 percent of the costs of training an officer whose training ended within the last 12 months before his or her departure, 66 percent for an officer whose training ended between 12 and 24 months prior to departure, and 33 percent for officers whose training ended between 24 and 36 months before leaving.

As city officials pointed out in our story, the bill doesn’t cover the extra time the city has paid veteran officers to accompany the rookies following their graduation from the Police Academy and other associated expenses. Police Chief Bob Burford estimated that the true cost of replacing those three officers will be $150,000.

In sorting through the ethics of this situation, it’s helpful to remember that Sweet Home’s police already are at a significant disadvantage to Lebanon thanks to property tax compression that is an unintended result of Measure 47/50, which left Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Sweet Home police dependent on serial levies for their annual funding.

Last fall the city found out that its police budget would be $283,000 short, thanks to declines in property values and resulting tax compression.

It is no secret that Sweet Home police officers are underpaid, but the department can’t afford to pay more in this economic climate. To lose another $150,000 worth of investment in our police officers to Lebanon, which can afford to pay more, partly because it wasn’t caught in the compression trap, is an added blow to Sweet Home. Lebanon city officials have raised questions about the bill and Sweet Home’s interpretation of the law. Frankly, their objections ring a bit hollow.

Not only is their city booming economically, with the recent arrival of the giant Lowe’s distribution plant and a brand new medical school, an expanded Wilco farm and garden store and numerous other businesses, but one of Sweet Home’s only non-government local employers has just moved to Lebanon.

Lebanon may be having budget problems too, but these pale compared to Sweet Home’s.

Everybody’s hurting now, and it is actually a compliment to Sweet Home that Lebanon is eager to hire its officers. But at the same time, the city cannot continue to take financial body blows without serious economic fallout and that’s why the provisions of this law are right and Sweet Home is justified, and should be commended, in doing what it needs to do.