Opinion

Crime increase justifies tax | Editorial

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown isn’t pushing a sales tax to help his overtaxed department, but the facts he presents make a solid case for sending the question of a small tax increase to the voters.

Many property owners were howling this week when they saw a new $39 utility fee added to their property tax statement, to pay for water quality studies, drainage work and the like. As much as the county commissioners deem this fee necessary, it’s probably a safe bet that residents would rather see any new taxes or fees go toward law enforcement.

Sheriff Brown recently listed a litany of crime increases, from horrid murders to a plethora of burglaries. Sad as the killings may be, they’re still rare and not much worry to the average homeowner. What does worry them is reported burglaries, which went from 187 in 2010 to 331 last year, which translates to a 77 percent increase. This is indeed an alarming statistic and makes people feel less safe in their homes.

During the budget crisis, the Sheriff’s Department lost approximately 10 personnel, with only 33 commissioned officers remaining. They can’t cover two islands with large, elongated land masses while also doing the requisite paperwork and court requirements. Chances are the criminal element knows where the cops are at any given time, and communicate such information to each other.

Crime prevention is a good idea, but there’s no personnel for that. Years ago the department had an effective DARE officer to relate to the young people of the island, and before that there were personnel available to run an effective Neighborhood Crime Watch program, where officers would visit neighborhood meetings, give tips on fighting crime, hand out “crime watch” window stickers, and otherwise help neighbors help themselves. That program too is long gone.

The law allows a public vote for a small law-and-justice sales tax of one-tenth of one percent.

The county commissioners should put this option before the people on the November ballot, but first assure the voters that all the proceeds will benefit law enforcement directly, and not be put in one pocket and taken out of another. Also limit the increase to five years, hoping the economy improves enough in that time that the general fund can once again support an adequate sheriff’s department. Meanwhile, the people need more protection and will probably pay a little more if given the chance.

 

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