Sheriff says state has 'our money'

"Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley says Island County needs a fair share of tax revenue, even if it means suing the state to get it.Following his 2001 budget presentation to county commissioners Wednesday, Hawley said Island County is nearing bankruptcy because of the loss of sales tax money that the state should be sending back.I think it's time that we sue the State of Washington, he told the commissioners. If we don't do this the county will rapidly descend.But the county commissioners say they're not prepared to take such a dramatic and negative step, and their top attorney says they have no legal basis for taking the state to court.Hawley's proposal was born out of his frustration with what he sees as inadequate funding of county departments. He said the Sheriff's Department is dangerously understaffed and he fears for the safety of his deputies who are often called into potentially life-threatening situations without sufficient backup.Hawley showed the commissioners statistics pointing to the county's loss of nearly $1.5 million in annual sales tax revenue because of what he termed the state's inequitable sales tax distribution system. He based his conclusions on the fact that Island County residents spend much of their money, and thereby their sales tax, in neighboring counties. Under current state law, the counties who collect the sales tax get a portion of it back. As a result, Island County gets what Hawley calls an unfair share of sales tax revenue when compared to its population.If we had this money we wouldn't need to raise taxes, he told the commissioners. (Island County residents) have already been taxed. It's our money.But the commissioners were reluctant to rally to Hawley's cause. Commissioner Bill Thorn said a lawsuit against the state could take years to settle.There's no immediate solution there, he said. Thorn also called such action a very negative way to get state legislators to pay attention to the problem.Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said the county would be on shaky legal ground if it pursued such action. He said that county's don't have any civil liberties under the law on which to base a case.There's no legal basis for a suit, he said, though he admitted that he fully understood the frustration that led to Hawley's proposal.We've got to do something, Hawley insisted. He suggested that at the very least the county's elected officials should all go to Olympia to plead their case. Neither the commissioners nor Banks said they were opposed to such action. "

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