Law, justice measure will be on ballot in November

The fate of a much-discussed, law-and-justice levy is now in the hands of Island County voters.

The Board of Commissioners green-lighted a resolution Monday to put a modified version of the property tax measure on the November general election ballot.

It was passed in a unanimous 2-0 vote by District 1 Democrat Commissioner Helen Price Johnson and District 2 Republican Commissioner Jill Johnson.

“I think the Island County voters deserve a chance to vote on this levy,” Price Johnson said.

District 3 Republican Commissioner Kelly Emerson was not present at the meeting.

As proposed, the measure carries a four-year sunset clause and mandates that every penny be spent on law-and-justice needs. If passed, the levy would also prohibit the commissions from reducing existing funding from 2013 levels.

The $1.9-million levy would hike property taxes by 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation — about $42.50 for a $250,000 home. It would raise the total rate to an estimated 81 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation ‚Ä쬆about $202.50 for the same home.

The adopted resolution is a modified version of a recommendation from the Law and Justice Council earlier this year. That proposal sought $2.6 million in funding and had a five-year sunset.

Although it’s not quite as much as law-and-justice leaders had requested, Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said he is relieved a measure is now headed for a public vote.

He added that he is not happy about having to ask for a tax hike but said his department is in sore need of additional manpower.

“I need people and I need them badly,” Brown said. “It’s urgent that we grow this department. ... I just want to start that process.”

According to Johnson, a series of recent community meetings led her to believe that many in the community feel 2008 staffing levels were acceptable. Restoring those numbers require only $1.9 million, rather than the $2.6 million recommended.

She also said a sunset of four years, as opposed to the requested five, provides for greater government accountability and focus to achieve outlined objectives.

Finally, she felt the community expressed concern at the public meetings that the money would be used for purposes other than law and justice.

“The language is very clear that this is a law-and-justice levy only and that it’s not funding additional services,” Johnson said.

According to Price Johnson, the prosecutor’s office will draft the exact language for the ballot.

It must be submitted to the Auditor’s Office no later than Aug. 6.

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