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Law, justice ballot proposal goes to Island County commissioners

Island County Law and Justice Council formalized its hopes for a $2.6 million fall ballot measure this week when the group unanimously approved a recommendation to move forward with the request.

The council, an advisory group comprised of police, court, municipal leaders and community members from Whidbey and Camano islands, decided it was time to proceed with the property tax and passed a resolution urging the Island County Commissioners to formally green light the proposal.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks, during an interview with the Whidbey News-Times following the decision, said there is a lot of work to be done, but he was happy the council was able to reach a consensus and take the next step.

“I’m encouraged it’s progressing and I think what we put together is good,” Banks said.

As of press deadline, the resolution was still being fine-tuned for submission to the board, but it will essentially request that voters approve $2.6 million in funding. The money would be raised via an increase in property taxes.

The measure will either appear on the August primary ballot or November general election ballot.

The total amount of the request may end up being somewhat less because it will address immediate revenue needs, said Banks. For example, the proposed tax is designed to pay for a number of new deputy sheriff, but not all of them would be hired at once.

That means less money would be needed during the first year, he said.

With a recommendation now in the hands of the board, the county commissioners is the last stop before a measure can appear on the ballot.

Two of the commissioners pledged limited — or conditional — support.

Commissioner Jill Johnson, who campaigned on a slate of priority funding for law and justice, said this is her “number one priority” but that there is an internal “hiccup” that needs to be resolved.

Sheriff’s Office’s deputies have worked without a contract for years and negotiations with their union are ongoing, Johnson said.

“I want that resolved before we go out and ask voters for money,” she said.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson also noted she has issues she wants to see addressed. Price Johnson said she believes there is an urgent need for more law enforcement funding, but that she learned a lesson from the failure in 2010 of Proposition 1.

It lacked support because it was not clear about where the money would be spent, said Price Johnson, adding she doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

“If you’re asking them to reach into their wallets, they need to know what services will be provided.”

Of the three commissioners, Chairwoman Kelly Emerson may be the only one who will not support a fall ballot measure. Though an advocate for law and justice funding, she maintains issues can be addressed with the existing budget.

Emerson hasn’t offered specifics about where the money might be found or what departments might see budgets cut, but in an interview earlier this month Emerson said that she’s eager to discuss the matter with her colleagues.

“I would very much like to see us have that conversation before we ask for more money from folks,” Emerson said.

 

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