Sunday, October 2, 2022
Oct. 2, 2022

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In Our View: Voters have stepped up to meet evident need

The Columbian

Ballots are still being counted, but some things are becoming clear from Tuesday’s primary election. One of them is that voters will support public investment when the need is evident and is clearly stated.

Clark County voters appear to have passed a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to fund public safety measures, including body cameras for the sheriff’s office. Voters in Ridgefield and La Center also are likely to have passed replacement levies for local schools, and four propositions to fund fire and emergency medical services have received broad support.

Even during the best of times, it can be difficult to drum up public support for tax measures. That task is made harder during a time of high inflation, when many voters are concerned about the dwindling purchasing power of their paychecks.

But when the need is great and supporters can articulate the public benefits of a tax measure, Clark County voters are willing to pitch in for the common good.

That is the case with a sales tax increase, which will add 10 cents to a $100 purchase. According to initial election results Tuesday, Proposition 11 was passing with 60 percent of the vote.

The measure is expected to raise about $12 million a year, with 60 percent of it going to Clark County government and 40 percent to be divided among the cities on a per capita basis. As explained in the ballot measure: “Clark County will use its revenue share for public safety and criminal justice purposes, including but not limited to, funding a body worn camera program, increased staffing for the Sheriff’s Office, and other expenses.”

The Clark County Council placed the measure on the ballot, following a clumsy attempt last year to raise funds for body cameras. With this year’s measure passing, Councilor Gary Medvigy said: “Although it means more sales tax, people are really concerned about law and order. People are willing to dig a little deeper because public safety is such a big task of county government.”

That concern has been fueled by rising crime rates and by a demonstrated shortage of deputies in the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Some issues still surround the council’s approach. One is that councilors tried an opaque method in proposing funding last year, rather than expressly saying the money would go toward body cameras. Another is that councilors typically decline to take a permissible 1 percent annual increase to the property tax levy but now ask to increase the sales tax — a particularly regressive form of taxation.

Still, we are pleased that voters have responded to the need and passed a measure to improve public safety in our community.

The same can be said about school levies and fire levies.

The Ridgefield school measure was passing handily in early returns; the La Center measure was leading by a slim margin. Replacement levies are not new taxes but rather make up for expiring funding measures.

Although public education is a frequent target of criticism, the way to improve local schools is not to bleed them dry. It is to provide adequate funding and robust experiences for students while demanding accountability from administrators and school boards.

Voters in Ridgefield have demonstrated that they understand that; we hope the final results say the same for voters in La Center.

The overriding lesson from the ballot measures is that, while anti-tax mavens often have the loudest voices in the public square, voters are willing to support the public good when the need is evident. That is one of the hallmarks of a strong community.

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