Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary (center) speaks at the Everett Firefighters Hall in Everett on Thursday. Trenary and other county officials have proposed raising the criminal justice tax by 0.2 percent, which, he says, will help increase the number of deputies and officers working to fix problems such as homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary (center) speaks at the Everett Firefighters Hall in Everett on Thursday. Trenary and other county officials have proposed raising the criminal justice tax by 0.2 percent, which, he says, will help increase the number of deputies and officers working to fix problems such as homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

Sheriff: Snohomish County tax hike would help improve public safety

  • By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
  • Thursday, May 26, 2016 7:41pm
  • Local News

EVERETT — Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary sees a looming sales-tax vote as the best way to put more deputies on the road to address a spike in drug-related property crimes.

Trenary hopes to hire 35 new deputies if the 0.2 percent sales tax passes. But the men and women in uniform wouldn’t be working alone. Plans call for them to receive support from a network that would include social workers and others focused on the related problems of heroin addiction, homelessness and mental illness that are plaguing the county.

“Everybody truly wants to use this money in the way that will have the greatest impact,” Trenary said Thursday at a campaign kick-off event to support the passage of the new tax.

Trenary spoke alongside Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe and County Councilman Brian Sullivan at the Everett Firefighters Hall on Hewitt Avenue. The crowd of about 50 was packed with seasoned law-enforcement professionals, lawmakers and county administrators.

The sales-tax measure will appear on the Aug. 2 ballot and requires a simple majority to pass.

It would add 2 cents to a $10 purchase, starting Jan. 1. It would apply countywide and generate an estimated $25 million per year in new government revenue.

The extra money, Trenary said, would help address “the worst drug epidemic that many of us have seen in 30 years of law enforcement.”

Heroin addiction has fueled a rise in property crimes.

“I’m hoping to actually get the ability to address the root causes of the mushroom cloud of property crime in this county,” Roe said. “Many of these people are committing crimes because they’re mentally ill, they’re homeless or they’re addicts.”

Simply sending them to jail won’t solve the problem, he said, and it’s expensive.

Word of the sales-tax measure first surfaced in early May. County officials have worked quickly since then.

The Snohomish County Council voted 4-1 on May 9 to put the measure to voters during the upcoming primary election. Councilman Ken Klein voted no, saying he’d like more details on how the tax increase would be spent.

Supporters have formed a political action committee called A Safer Snohomish County. Trenary, Roe and other elected officials from the county are helping lead the effort.

On Thursday, the Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff’s Association pledged $100,000 for the campaign.

Without the proposed tax hike, many in county government fear there will be staff cuts, and people in public safety jobs won’t be spared.

Reining in spending was a theme last year as Dave Somers campaigned to become county executive.

Those concerns carried over since he took office in January. They played into the executive’s recent recommendation to scrap plans to build a new county courthouse in downtown Everett. Somers now favors the cheaper option of remodeling the county’s existing 1967 courthouse building. Renovation is expected to cost about $80 million — roughly half the price of the eight-story building the county was preparing to build last year.

Somers’ staff has been looking at grim numbers as they start to assemble next year’s budget.

Expenses have continued to grow faster than the cash the county is bringing in.

If nothing changes in the financial picture, the county could face 3 percent across-the-board cuts.

Most of the cutbacks would have to come from criminal justice functions, which soak up three-quarters of the county’s operating budget. That spells potential impacts for patrol deputies, deputy prosecutors, public defenders, court staff, the Medical Examiner’s Office and emergency-management personnel.

If the sales-tax measure were to fail, combined cuts to those departments could total $4.5 million, county spokesman Kent Patton said. Patrol and jail functions overseen by the sheriff could take $2.8 million of the hit.

Non criminal-justice departments, such as the auditor, assessor, council, parks, human services and the planning department, might have to trim $1.5 million, Patton said.

If voters pass the sales tax, it would cost the average household an extra $94.37 per year. That’s probably an overestimate. It assumes about $47,000 in yearly spending per household. County staff arrived at the figure by dividing sales tax collections by the county’s 270,000 households, without factoring in spending by tourists and other out-of town visitors, Patton said.

Proceeds from the sales tax would be distributed countywide, with 60 percent going to county government and 40 percent divided among local cities on a per-capita basis.

Cities that already have a 0.1 percent sales tax in place for criminal justice would only see an increase of 0.1 percent.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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