Sweeny City Council’s exploration of a dedicated funding source to meet the needs of its police department is a smart path that has proven successful in other Brazoria County communities.
What is surprising is not more small cities have taken that route.
Sweeny voters are expected to see the request to create a Crime Control and Prevention District on their ballot during the municipal election in May. If approved, it would divert one-eighth of a cent in sales tax revenue toward funding the Sweeny Police Department.
The tradeoff in Sweeny is it would reduce the amount given to economic development, which has been the sole beneficiary of the city’s half-cent sales tax revenue. It has received the full half-cent revenue since 1997.
By splitting the money between the two priorities, Sweeny can help satisfy both needs while easing some of the strain on the general fund budget. It’s a practice that has worked in Richwood, where City Manager Lindsey Koskienimi and Police Chief Brad Caudle both worked previously, and Iowa Colony, which created its district in 2018.
Richwood has applied sales tax revenue allocated to its Crime Control and Prevention District toward replacing vehicles, sending officers to training and supporting community events, such as All America Night and National Night Out. It receives about $185,000 from its allocation.
Sweeny’s police force will not see that much revenue should its proposal receive approval from voters, but it will allow the city to move equipment funding to the district and use the savings to better pay its officers. Given the difficulty for law enforcement agencies to recruit and retain officers, that will greatly benefit the departments and its connection to the community.
Making that case to residents will be important in getting their backing.
“What we are trying to do is educate the public on this, let them know that some of this is one strategy to try to move big-ticket purchases out of the general operating budget, which is predominantly funded by property taxes,” Koskiniemi said.
It’s important as well to educate voters that the new district will not be any sort of tax increase — they’re already paying the added sales tax. It is just changing where that money they’re already paying will go when it’s collected.
Small police departments such as Sweeny’s need as many financial benefits as possible to remain up to date on equipment, keep its officers’ training and pay a wage that prevents its officers from moving to bigger, better-paying departments. Creating a Crime Control and Prevention District has proven to be a successful avenue for doing so, and Sweeny is wise to ask voters to dedicate a portion of the city’s sales tax to that purposed.