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Dec. 4, 2022

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Clark County Council supports public safety tax

0.1% levy would pay for body, dash cameras for sheriff’s office

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Voters will once again be asked to approve a tax measure to fund body and dash cameras for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. On Wednesday, the county council unanimously supported placing a 0.1 percent public safety tax measure on either the August or November ballot.

The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed public safety tax measure beginning at 10 a.m. on May 3. The county has until May 13 to file the measure with the Elections Office to place the measure on the ballot.

The county would keep 60 percent of the revenue collected, with 40 percent shared with Clark County’s cities. The cities could also ask voters to approve a 0.1 percent sales tax in their jurisdictions, but only if the county doesn’t implement the full 0.3 percent tax rate it’s allowed to pursue.

According to County Finance Director Mark Gassaway, the county would receive $7.2 million for each 0.1 percent levied, and the cities’ share would be $4.8 million for each 12-month period.

Rescue act money

During earlier council discussion, the possibility of using American Rescue Plan Act funds to fund the purchase and maintenance of the cameras was raised. County Manager Kathleen Otto previously said ARPA funds, which were intended to relieve economic pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic, are a one-time-only award, making them difficult to use for ongoing expenses like body and dash cameras.

Gassaway provided an overview of American Rescue Plan Act funds awarded to the county. Of the $95 million the county received, Gassaway said around $5 million to $6 million has not been earmarked for specific projects, but he noted that other projects, like the community grant program, may need those funds.

The council has several times discussed how to fund body and dash cameras since a sales tax measure failed to pass in the November election. That measure would have created a 0.1 percent sales tax to be used for juvenile detention facilities and jails. The measure was intended to allow general fund dollars that would have gone to juvenile detention and jails to instead be used for the purchase of body and dash cameras as well as the ongoing operations.

What voters won’t be asked to fund, at least not yet, are infrastructure improvements for the county jail and Children’s Justice Center. Not that the infrastructure improvements aren’t needed. Finance Program Manager Michelle Schuster said with leases for the Children’s Justice Center and family law annex expiring in May 2024, the county will have large and expensive moves to tackle, along with smaller projects like technology upgrades, human resources and moving the sheriff’s office administration.

One future project not covered by ARPA funding is addressing bed capacity. Schuster said the juvenile justice center could be used to address this but would also need improvements to meet earthquake and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“What is going through my mind is how this would be presented in a voters’ pamphlet if we were to go with the sales tax proposal,” Council Chair Karen Bowerman said. “Simplifying this with clarity is going to be a challenge.”

Otto also said some of the items Schuster detailed may not be covered by a public safety tax.

“You could have two measures on the ballot. One specifically for body cameras and one specifically to support the efforts to update the law and justice facilities,” Otto said.

However, Councilor Julie Olson said she wanted to focus on the measure to fund body and dash cameras to increase the odds of it being passed by voters.

“When we start talking about jail improvements, remodeling, capital improvements, I think that’s a different discussion. I would hate to see that get muddled into this tax measure,” Olson said.

Olson said that’s exactly what happened with the last tax measure and instead suggested focusing only on funding body and dash cameras for now.

“We need a lot more information out in the community,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said. “I think there’s a great need for the county to support a community forum that has the main stakeholders and justice.”

Medvigy said there is widespread concern about rising crime rates and jail capacity but agreed those discussions should be kept separate.

For an agenda or links to the May 3 meeting, go to https://clark.wa.gov/calendar.

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