Island County’s law-and-justice community has settled on its wish list, now it’s up to the county commissioners to take that list and submit it to a serious reality test.
A committee made up of the sheriff, prosecutor and others has proposed a property tax increase of 21 cents per thousand of assessed value, resulting in $52.50 more per year for the owner of a $250,000 house.
The bulk of the money would go to the Sheriff’s Office, the second-lowest staffed in the state on a per capita basis, as the sheriff continually reminds us. Over time, he would get 16 new staff members: 10 deputies, three corrections officers and three detectives.
The prosecutor would get a few hires to handle a growing caseload and to help train deputies in the finer points of the law so that arrests are made on solid ground, not subject to being tossed out of court on technicalities.
The committee also included a “sunset” provision, meaning voters could decide whether to keep the new tax after five years. It’s hard to imagine citizens voting to lay off a bunch of cops, so this provision isn’t really necessary, it’s more of a campaign point for the election.
The county commissioners have some serious discussions ahead, beginning at a work session today, June 12. First, they need to gather ironclad statistics to impress the need to the public. Second, they have to assure the public that the new law and justice revenue will be on top of what already exists. Theoretically, the new money could tempt the commissioners to redirect existing revenue to other causes. Third, the commissioners have to decide if a property tax increase is the best approach at a time when property owners already feel under siege by other needs, such as schools, fire protection and hospital expansion.
Then there’s another ticklish issue, that being ongoing contract negotiations between the deputies’ union and the county. If the union sees a new source of revenue coming down the pipeline, they’ll likely go for it. How much will that leave us to hire new deputies?