Budget fact: crime fight has its price

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

If Snohomish County residents want to be tough on crime, they’re going to have to pay more taxes, Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel said Friday.

Unveiling the proposed 2001 county budget, Drewel suggested a countywide vote this spring to raise the sales tax to pay for running an enlarged jail.

The one-tenth of a penny tax increase, if approved by the county council and then voters in March, would bring in about $8 million annually to staff a yet-to-be-built addition to the county jail.

That tax would add 30 cents to the purchase of a $300 television, or $20 to the purchase of a $20,000 car.

Aside from the proposed sales tax increase, Drewel said he’s delivering "primarily a status quo budget," with the smallest increase in general fund spending since 1996.

The sheriff’s office wants more than status quo.

Drewel is proposing a 4.5 percent increase for the sheriff’s budget, up nearly $31 million and about twice the inflation rate. That raise follows a 13 percent increase the sheriff’s office got in 1999. The county’s entire general fund increased 17.5 percent that year.

Sheriff Rick Bart said a 4.5 percent boost next year isn’t enough.

"We’re not well," he said. "And this is not going to make us get better."

If the county council doesn’t add more to the budget, Bart said, he won’t have enough deputies to handle emergency calls quickly. The other alternative would be to cut training for specialty teams such as the recently formed riot-control squad, and approach cities about helping to pay for services now provided for free. He also said he might remove three resource officers at school districts in Lakewood, Mukilteo and Marysville and return those deputies to the streets.

The deputies’ union delayed demonstrations planned for Friday to avoid interfering with a tentative contract that goes before the county council for approval this week. But Ty Trenary, president of the Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, promised a high-profile campaign in coming weeks.

Anticipating the criticism, Drewel defended his administration’s support for law enforcement in recent years. The sheriff has gotten 49 new officers and 11 support staff since 1996, a staffing increase that outpaces the county’s population growth, he said. The county also continues to pursue projects such as a new sheriff’s office and construction of a $30 million emergency radio network.

At the same time, Drewel said the county must deal with losses of $2.3 million in law enforcement funding and $1 million in public health funding because of Initiative 695. The 1999 ballot measure ended the state car tax that raised that money.

Aside from criminal justice, Drewel focused much of his attention on public health and dealing with growth and the environment.

In the realm of public health, his budget would replace $600,000 the Snohomish County Health District lost to I-695.

The county executive focused his message about growth on the county’s urban areas, outlining what he called an "urban agenda." Among other things, he vowed to push to finish detailed growth management plans, particularly in fast-growing southwest Snohomish County, and to use a $50,000 grant to start a program to preserve land connecting different parks and natural areas.

Development and growth was also the source of some of the main fee increases in Drewel’s budget:

  • More than doubling the annual surface water management fee paid by county homeowners from $31.77 to $65 per single-family home, with an additional $15 in urban areas in 2002.

  • Increase different development fees nearly 19 percent to raise an additional $525,000.

    It’s not clear whether the 2001 budget would raise property-tax rates for homeowners.

    The budget now goes to the county council, which will review it and make any changes before approving it. The council is scheduled to have a public hearing about the budget Nov. 21.

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