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Island County commissioner responds to Law and Justice Council
The following is the full text of the letter that Island County Commissioner Angie Homola asked to be read to the Island County Law and Justice Council Wednesday:
Dear Law and Justice Council,
Please know that I took your letter seriously as to the need for additional funding to support the Law and Justice functions of County government. I asked that this issue be brought to the Board (twice) so that a decision could be made as soon as possible so that you and others were not left hanging. The budgetary struggles of Island County and counties across the state are clearly evident. I take exception to comments made by the Prosecutor and Sheriff that the Board was doing nothing about this situation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For the past three and a half years I have encouraged elected officials and department heads to join me in bringing information to the public regarding our ability to meet mandated and essential public service needs. No one wanted to spend the time or energy because of diminished staff. But I did not stop there; I have studied the functions of each department, the finances of the County and the options for revenues and expense reductions, (which were administered by cutting 20% of previous expenses). This information was then compiled in a presentation that I, much like the Sheriff, have been sharing at every venue that will allow it so that our voters are informed and ready to help make adjustments.
Over the past few months (since this was introduce by the L&J Council) I have worked with our city Mayors and staff to find the right way to resolve the impacts created by huge revenue reductions in a manner that will garner wide spread support so that a ballot measure is successful. This dire situation is not a surprise. After I took office I shared the forecasts with the Sheriff over three years ago and asked that he please look out several years which he was not willing to do. So now the urgency, and an ask, that takes only one area of the county into consideration. Such a ballot measure, if passed would make it nearly impossible to come back to the voters to ask for their help with other areas of the County. If it failed, any hope to assist any department would be delayed even further due to voter‚Äôs lack of an appetite for such measures.
The Sheriff has indicated that it is the Board‚Äôs job to work on behalf of the County at large ‚Äì and he feels it is his job to advocate for his department only. I think we need to work together. With my urging the Board has found resources from the scarce contingency fund to provide staffing to cope with the prosecutors and jailers workload while other departments have equal challenges but don‚Äôt have murders to cope with. We do respond, and we take these challenges seriously.
Being ready for a new tax means understanding the scope of the ask and being able to validate the expense. Of concern is that although Yakima County passed their Law and Justice Sales Tax, they now have fewer deputies than before because they added a 5% COLAs for 4 consecutive years. They had a non-supplant language and a dedicated fund and are now struggling mightily. In the Island County Sheriff‚Äôs department there exists a huge potential liability for pay-out coming forward with arbitration for back COLAs, and there is over $80,000 in overtime for road deputies in just the first quarter of this year and over $10,000 for correction deputies. We need to address these areas. Your ask includes NO ability for budgetary assistance to any departments other than Law and Justice. I would be remiss to not consider the long-term impacts such a one sided measure would have on our community.
What I believe would be the most effective is a collaborative approach where we can talk about solutions that will keep this County whole, that will help severely reduced departments meet mandates and will aid in minimizing the number of criminal offenses. We need solutions that will not severely impact our local businesses and ones that will help our sister agencies.
I implore you, again, please follow the lead of San Juan County to think not only of your own needs but to think of the County as a whole ‚Äì because the services provided to our citizens whether they be communication via maintained rights-of-way, roads, public health, job stimulation through permitting of construction projects, licenses and recorded deeds or elections are all a part of what keeps us a civil and vibrant community.
I welcome these collaborative discussions.