South Whidbey residents certainly want to see more support for the sheriff, but questioned the proposed $2.6 million from property taxes. Residents contributed ideas for the proposed levy from the Island County Law and Justice Council Wednesday night. Commissioner Helen Price Johnson and Sheriff Mark Brown sought feedback whether or not this levy should be put on the ballot and if so, what it should look like. About 30 people attended including Commissioner Kelly Emerson.
The current proposal asks Island County Board of Commissioners to approve an additional property tax levy to put on the November ballot. The proposed ballot requests $0.21 per $1,000 of the assessed property value, or $52.50 for a $250,000 home to raise the $2.6 million.
Of the $2.6 million request, the sheriff’s office accounts for $2.4 million. Brown said he wanted to gauge what level of service the community wanted from his office. The proposal points out there were cuts of 15 law and justice positions since 2008 while the department still operates the same hours for the sheriff’s patrol and corrections services. The cuts impacted response times for medical first responders and firefighters and removed positions and proactive operations.
“Somehow my agency needs to grow,” Brown said, adding he would like to see two deputies per shift for all three precincts. He explained any less than two creates a long time for deputies respond to other back up calls.
Community members voiced their concern over budgeting the amount over the five-year span. Some were concerned unused money used would be redirected to other programs.
“I’m not going to ask for more than I need,” Brown said.
Others questioned the leave liability for deputies costing the county.
Brown said the leave liability was one of the issues he is working on. Price Johnson later said that the issue was an organizational wide problem.
Price Johnson expressed her concern over the “sunset” length, or the five-year expiration period when the levy would revert to pre-election levels unless authorized by a vote.
“I have concerns about it being an odd number of years because it will end up being on a campaign election partisan year,” she said. “It’s nice if we can have these discussions when we are not focused on party politics.”
Langley resident Jim Adsley attended the meeting and said he agrees the sheriff is in need of funding, but questioned the means of that funding. He would like to see the funding come from sales tax because the sheriff’s office is busier during holidays and tourist season.
“I think the public would support more funding for public safety, but I’m not sure they’ll do it with property,” Adsley said.
Price Johnson said an increase in sales tax would not generate enough. And if only part of the sheriff’s budget were from sales tax, it would require two separate ballots.
“I think he is right on the need, but where the money comes from is another issue. Every level of government is asking for more money,” Adsley said.
“We are going to continue to struggle incrementally to meet the needs in other departments,” Price Johnson said. “But with this levy, at least the law and justice programs would have a dedicated source of funding.”