The Stevens County Commissioners will be asking voters for a sales tax increase this fall to fund one of the county services that Commissioner Malcolm Friedman said helps “keep a civilized society.”
“There are a few basic services that keep us a civilized society, like road maintenance, law enforcement and courts,” said Friedman.
Friedman and his fellow Commissioners, Don Dashiell and Larry Guenther, are asking voters for a 3/10ths of a penny sales tax increase in the county that would boost funding to county law enforcement during a time of declining and uncertain grant availability from the state and federal government.
The sales tax proposal amount equates to three cents on a $10 purchase or 30 cents on a $100 purchase and will not impact the purchase of groceries, medical services, automobile sales or leases. The current sales tax in the county is 7.6 percent, which would increase to 7.9 percent if the proposal passes. Ballots for the fall election that will include the sales tax proposal will be mailed out on Oct. 19.
$406,000 in state and federal funds in jeopardy
According to a flyer put out by the board of ommissioners, the Stevens County Sheriff’s Department will likely lose the $406,000 in state and federal grant funding this year, undercutting financing for three road deputies in the Sheriff’s Department and two clerical staff.
Stevens County Sheriff’s Department Captain Andy Harbolt said the road deputy positions respond to a variety of calls, including domestic violence, assaults, robberies, disturbances, trespassing, and “shots fired” on any given shift.
The clerical positions are in charge of record keeping, permits, billing, clerical and inner office work, as well as complying with state record keeping/processing mandates.
The sales tax proposal would fund those five positions, as well as providing money for support services for animal control and funding work on behalf of victims of sexual and physical abuse through Kids First Children’s Advocacy Center.
Monies dedicated to animal control services would be welcome, said Captain Harbolt, since county deputies respond to animal calls on a daily basis, but often do not have the tools to address the situation.
“We are called to recover abandoned, sick or injured animals on a continual basis,” said Harbolt. “Oftentimes, we have to transport the animals in the back of the patrol car which can be problematic by tying up the car until the animal transport is completed, as well as potential sanitary issues.”
Harbolt said livestock and small farm animal issues are also routine calls for service.
“With cattle, Open Range laws are taken into consideration depending on the area and time of year,” he explained. “Cattle grazing is allowed in certain areas, however cattle may drift into a ‘Closed Range’ areas which is another issue that deputies deal with on a continual basis. Dog complaints are also frequent, with daily calls received by the dispatch center. Barking dogs, dangerous dogs and dogs running loose are typical calls that deputies encounter.”
Commissioner Friedman said monies from the sales tax proposal could be partnered with local municipality dollars to fund shared contract services for animal related complaints, freeing deputies up to deal with calls involving human concerns.
If approved, the sales tax increase will expire in five years, which will allow the commissioners to reevaluate their funding and determine if the need to ask for a renewal of the tax or if the economy has improved revenues enough to do without it.
Commissioner Friedman said if the sales tax proposal doesn’t pass, it is uncertain what options the county has at this point.
“I don’t like the fact we are putting out any kind of tax increase to the citizens, but the state and federal funding we have been relying on has become unstable and likely not to be renewed,” he said. “And that reliance on federal money is an issue, because I am really more of a 10th Amendment person. When you get money from the federal government, there are always strings attached and you can get caught in a cobweb of regulation. But if we don’t want the control that comes with the federal dollars, we have to be willing to do it ourselves, which means paying for what we need here locally.”
For more information about the 3/10ths of a penny sales tax proposition, contact the Stevens County Commissioners at 684-3751.