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Fine-tuned tax increase proposal heads to board of commissioners

Corrections Deputy Mark Moffitt escorts an inmate at the Island County Jail. The understaffed jail could get three more deputies if a ballot measure passes.  - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Corrections Deputy Mark Moffitt escorts an inmate at the Island County Jail. The understaffed jail could get three more deputies if a ballot measure passes.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

A resolution recommending a ballot proposition for law-and-justice funding is finally on its way to Island County Board of Commissioners.

Island County Law and Justice Council again voted unanimously Thursday to send a resolution to the commissioners.

The council asks the commissioners to approve a ballot measure seeking a $2.6-million property tax increase.

The council approved a resolution in April, but the members had to hammer out details before sending it along. The resolution, for example, now includes a recommendation to “sunset” the tax increase after five years.

Island Prosecutor Greg Banks, co-chairman of the council, said the members discussed the sunset provision at length, but decided it was best to bring the tax increase back to the voters.

“Hopefully in five years, people will say that was money well spent,” he said during an interview with the Whidbey News-Times Thursday.

The council proposed a property-tax increase of approximately $0.21 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to raise $2.6 million a year. It would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $52.50 extra per year in property taxes.

The council wants the proposal to go to the voters in either the primary or general election this year.

The council is made up of a mix of law-and-justice officials, government officials and citizens. Island County Sheriff Mark Brown and Banks, the co-chairmen, signed the finalized resolution Thursday.

The resolution outlines specific impacts caused by cuts in county law-and-justice departments due to the budget shortfall since 2008 .

Fifteen law-and-justice positions were cut or had their hours reduced.

“Due to budget-imposed layoffs since 2008, the Sheriff has eliminated proactive investigations into methamphetamine, heroin and other hard drug trafficking operations, permitting drug traffickers to distribute drugs to adults and children in rural Island County with little risk of being detected, arrested and prosecuted,” the resolution states.

The resolution also states that non-violent property crimes, such as burglary and theft, are a low priority for deputies and prosecutors because of budget-imposed layoffs.

The prosecutor hasn’t been able to provide training to police officers, “resulting in compromised prosecutions due to illegally gathered evidence, and creating a financial liability for preventable civil rights violations,” the resolution states.

Brown emphasized that his office is tied with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department for the lowest-staffed department in the state on a per capita basis.

Brown said he was understaffed even before the cuts.

He said his priority is to provide 24-hour coverage, seven days a week at all three precincts. To accomplish that, he wants 16 new patrol officers. Plus, he is asking for three more corrections deputies in the jail and three more detectives.

He said his hope is to hire the new employees over a series of years.

The commissioners will get their first chance to discuss the resolution June 12.

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