Clark County voters will find a lengthy ballot for the November general election in their mailboxes late next week. Among the 10 county ballot measures is Proposition 10, which would create a 0.1 percent (or one-tenth of 1 percent) sales tax.
The tax would amount to 10 cents to every $100 spent.
How the sales tax revenue will be spent is not a straightforward answer.
According to the county, “the purpose of the measure is to increase funding for juvenile detention and jail facilities, to allow repurposing of county general fund revenue to be used for all expenses associated with body-worn cameras for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.”
Because the county could not create a sales tax to directly fund a body camera program, the sales tax will instead pay for existing juvenile and jail services. Then money from the general fund that would have gone to those services would instead go to the body camera program.
The county council decided to put the question of whether to supply the sheriff’s department with body and dash cameras to voters during its June 23 meeting.
“If the public does indeed support it, they will show us that through their votes. I think it’s prudent for us to do so,” said council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien during the meeting.
Quiring O’Brien said she supported the use of body cameras but wanted to be sure voters did, too.
If approved, the tax would be in effect for 10 years starting on April 1, 2022, and expire March 31, 2032.
“A lot of people think it’s a good idea because it protects both sides, whether it’s the sheriff’s (office) or the people, for what happened when there was an encounter between the two,” said Councilor Karen Bowerman.
As of 2016, about half of all U.S. law enforcement agencies were using body-worn cameras. The U.S. Justice Department found that sheriffs’ offices using body cameras reported improved evidence quality (82 percent), improved officer safety (80 percent) and reduced civilian complaints (79 percent) as reasons for using cameras.
The county expects the tax increase to raise approximately $6 million per year. This would pay for equipment costs, as well as training, data storage needs, employees to process public records requests and discovery requests, and additional expenses for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the indigent defense program, according to a staff report. Taxes collected over the 10-year span are anticipated to cover program expenses for 30 years, Bowerman said.
“This is assuming we need 12 people to maintain the program; producing all of the video is very labor intensive and in more than one office — in the prosecutor’s office, in indigent defense, all over the county,” she said.
Bowerman added she thinks it will take fewer people, and then the tax dollars will last longer than 30 years.
“By that time, the state or federal government may decide everyone needs to use body cameras and may kick in some money to cover those costs,” she added.
Some have already raised concerns about the tax. Vancouver resident David Poland provided an “against” statement for the Voters’ Pamphlet.
“By voting for this proposal, you are essentially approving of increasing the size of the county jail,” Poland wrote.
Bowerman said there was no discussion or intention to use the funds to increase the jail size or capacity.
Poland also said the sales tax rate in Clark County is already driving buyers across the bridge to make purchases.
“Surviving small businesses need our help to keep afloat, not another reason for residents to take their business to Oregon,” he said.
Poland could not be reached for comment.
But the county says the tax is needed if Clark County residents want to see body and dash cameras in the field.
“County council has no means for implementing bodycams if voters do not fund them … Our communities demand both police transparency and offenders being held accountable. Proposition 10 accomplishes these goals,” they said.