Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Nov. 30, 2022

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Clark County Council adds voter-approved safety tax to county code

Councilors also OK new fund to collect revenue

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

The public safety sales tax passed by 58.78 percent of voters in August goes into effect Jan. 1. On Tuesday, the Clark County Council unanimously approved adding the new tax to the county code. The council also approved creating a new fund for collecting the revenue, rather than placing it in the general fund.

The 0.1 percent tax, or 1 cent for every $10 spent, is expected to bring in $12 million in tax revenues annually, with 60 percent going to the county government and 40 percent to local cities.

“The county must officially notify the Department of Revenue before Oct. 16 so they can start collecting the tax starting Jan. 1, 2023. The first disbursement that will be coming to the county will be in March 2023,” County Manager Kathleen Otto told the council.

Councilor Gary Medvigy said he wanted to ensure the tax is collected and spent in the “most straightforward and most transparent” manner possible.

The county council has previously said the tax revenue will be used to fund a dashboard and body-worn camera program for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. But the new tax will bring in more revenue than is needed, and the council has yet to decide on how to spend the remainder.

According to a staff report, the county expects to receive around $6 million in 2023 and then $7.2 million each year thereafter.

“I’m not in favor of raising taxes, generally,” Medvigy said. “But this is a need, and not just for body cams and dash cams but for salaries, improvements at the jail, administrative staff, our deputies – we need to get their salaries up to where they’re competitive. This will go a great step forward in giving us a little bit more flexibility in moving each of those challenges forward.”

But the first priority, Medvigy said, is to launch the body and dash camera program.

There are also limits set by state law, which requires one-third of all money received from the tax to be used solely for criminal justice purposes, fire protection purposes, or both. The remainder of the funding can be used at the discretion of the county council.

Medvigy said he appreciates the voters for recognizing and supporting the county’s public safety needs.

“We’re all supportive of law enforcement here,” added Medvigy, who is a retired major general and California superior court judge. “I haven’t heard a single word against law enforcement in any discussion that we’ve had at the county council.”

Councilor Richard Rylander Jr. said he was glad voters were asked to decide whether to fund the body and dash camera program, as well as other expenditures.

“I look forward to the fact that, I hope, it will end up protecting the police and the public and provide firsthand awareness and knowledge on what’s really going on and pulling things out of the shadows,” Rylander said.

To watch the public hearing, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.

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