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Island County sets meetings to test law and justice tax
The public will get its first chance to weigh in on a prospective $2.6 million law and justice levy at a series of community meetings to be held on Whidbey and Camano islands over the next couple of weeks.
The first meeting was held Thursday in Oak Harbor. The next will be at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 9, at the Camano Senior Community Center, 606 Arrowhead Road; followed by 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 10, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 18341 Highway 525, Freeland.
Led by Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, the meetings were recently green-lighted by the board of commissioners following a presentation from members of the Law and Justice Council.
The council adopted a resolution last month that urged the board to move forward with a $2.6 million property tax hike. Due to filing deadlines, the measure can now only be run in the November election.
The council’s resolution was presented to the board as a group for the first time earlier this month. None of the commissioners pledged concrete support for the levy as proposed, but there was agreement to take another step and get community feedback.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she is supportive of putting a law and justice levy before voters but the details of the measure have to be finalized. Hearing from the public may help fine-tune the request, she said.
“That’s what I’m looking for, not whether or not to put it on the ballot,” Price Johnson said.
Board Chairwoman Kelly Emerson said she supported the prospect of reaching out for public input but indicated that her support may require a tax break somewhere else.
“At a time when this is such a rough economy, I felt that if we are going to ask that of the taxpayers that we need to give something back,” Emerson said.
Commissioner Jill Johnson, a member of the Law and Justice Council, said she was included in the decision to pass the resolution and bring it before the board for action.
She noted, however, that she is not considering this as a permanent revenue generator for law and justice. She is hoping for enough economic recovery to occur that a renewal will not need to be sought by the time the suggested five-year sunset clause expires.
“I’m personally not looking at this levy lid lift to be an ongoing and long-term permanent solution,” Johnson said. “My hope would be that we do it now as a stop-gap measure.”
In a later interview, Sheriff Brown said he was encouraged by the board’s reaction to the resolution. He said he was also glad for the opportunity to hold the meetings because this is a chance for the commissioners to hear directly from the community and he believes the message will be one of support for the measure.
“I think that’s what they are going to hear from the public,” Brown said.