Reardon takes his tax proposal to city officials

EVERETT — A budget hole of about $5.5 million could force across-the-board cuts to Snohomish County government next year, County Executive Aaron Reardon told other county elected leaders, mayors and police chiefs Thursday.

Reardon met with city officials to pitch his idea of putting a countywide 0.1 percent sales tax on the Nov. 6 ballot as a way to help municipal and county governments shore up public safety budgets.

The tax would raise an estimated $10 million during a full year, with 60 percent going to the county and 40 percent to city governments.

“It was more of a heads-up,” said Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine, who attended an afternoon meeting with other mayors and police chiefs. “They don’t need our permission. It’s more up to the County Council.”

The County Council is unlikely to support the idea. On Wednesday, all five council members signed a letter saying they would not put the issue on the ballot. Among the reasons cited was the limited time available to study the issue and mount a public campaign to explain why such an increase might be necessary.

Council chairman Brian Sullivan and vice chairwoman Stephanie Wright on Thursday also met with Reardon to discuss public safety funding.

Reardon’s office did not respond to a request for details.

City governments also have the option, under state law, of putting their own criminal justice sales tax of up to 0.1 percent on the ballot. When that happens, cities get to keep 85 percent of the revenue, with 15 percent going to the county.

This week, The Arlington City Council voted against doing that.

Mukilteo hasn’t felt the need to consider a public safety sales tax, Marine said. The city employs 28 officers and has made no recent public safety cuts.

Also attending Thursday’s meeting was Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling.

“Clearly we will bring the information back to the council and get their reaction to it,” Earling said.

Edmonds has had budget cuts, but so far has largely spared public safety. The city has had no recent layoffs among its more than 50-officer police force.

Earling noted that voters in his city turned down three separate property tax levies last year that would have supported the city’s operating budget, its roads and its parks.

The deadline for putting a public-safety sales tax on the budget is Aug. 7.

County leaders also have the option of raising property taxes that support public safety. They can tap a maximum of $11.3 million for the county’s general fund property tax without going directly to voters.

Reardon, who won a third term in office last year, made his opposition to new property taxes a key point in his campaign.

The courts, public safety and related functions of government consume more than 70 percent of Snohomish County’s approximately $200 million operating budget.

State law allows counties to ask voters to pass a sales tax of up to 0.3 percent to pay for criminal justice needs.

Any new tax would come on top of 7.7 cents to 9.5 cents a dollar in sales tax that people already pay on most goods, depending on where they are in the county. If the new tax were to pass, that would increase to 7.8 cents to 9.6 cents a dollar.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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