Friday, December 9, 2022
Dec. 9, 2022

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Clark County Council OKs public safety tax for ballot

0.01% levy would fund sheriff’s office body, dash cameras

By , Columbian staff writer

Following a Tuesday public hearing, the Clark County Council approved placing a 0.1 percent public safety tax on the August primary election ballot. Proceeds from the tax will be used to fund the purchase and ongoing expenses for body and dash cameras for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Councilors Richard Rylander Jr. and Julie Olson, along with Chair Karen Bowerman, voted in favor of the measure. Councilor Gary Medvigy had to leave the meeting early and was absent for the vote. Councilor Temple Lentz also was absent.

“This has been a long time coming,” Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said at the hearing. “We’ve been having a lot of discussions and it’s very important that we move forward with this so we can enact a body camera program.”

Atkins said body and dash cameras will provide better transparency to both law enforcement and the community.

The last attempt to pass a tax to fund body and dash cameras for the sheriff’s office failed. Proponents said afterward that many voters were left confused about how the tax revenue would be used. To avoid that kind of confusion, and to ensure the county isn’t unnecessarily limited in how it can use the funds generated by the tax, Olson said it’s especially important to get the ballot title correct.

Kevin Hart of the Vancouver Firefighters Union, which represents both firefighters and paramedics, expressed some concerns about putting the measure on the primary ballot.

“Currently there are three public safety levies that are going to be on the August ballot,” Hart said.

Those levies are Clark-Cowlitz Fire and Rescue’s emergency medical services levy, Clark County Fire District 5’s fire levy lid lift and Clark County Fire District 6’s EMS levy renewal. Hart said his concern is that voters will be confused by the number of public safety measures. He asked the council to consider placing the measure on the November ballot instead.

“This is an even-year election so there’s a lot of stuff on the ballot, a lot of heavy, political things,” Olson said. “Tax measures typically don’t do well in those types of election cycles.”

The county council will seek support from cities, which will benefit from the public safety tax. Cities will receive 40 percent of the tax revenue while the county will receive 60 percent.

The council also plans to hold an educational forum to give voters information about what the ballot measure is, how the money would be used and how much revenue it will generate.