NCW — Omak, Tonasket and Brewster will ask voters who live in their towns to increase sales taxes to help pay for criminal justice costs or fire protection services.
City officials said police departments are their largest cost, and losses in sales tax revenues over the last four years have resulted in cutbacks.
All three towns will ask voters for a 0.1 percent increase in sales taxes on the Nov. 5 ballot to help fund their criminal justice services. In Tonasket and Omak, some of the funds could also be used for fire protection or other general fund needs.
Omak City Administrator Ralph Malone said it’s been four years since the Omak Police Department has replaced any police vehicles, and that’s starting to catch up with them. “Sooner or later, you can’t defer it any longer,” he said.
If the tax passes, it would likely go toward replacing those vehicles first, he said. In future years, it could be used to hire officers for two unfilled positions, or replace vehicles for the fire department.
In Tonasket, clerk Alice Attwood said police vehicle replacement is just one area of concern. She said revenue losses also make it hard for the town to pay jail and dispatch fees charged by the county.
A fact sheet prepared on the proposal said that if the city initiates the sales tax increase, it will keep 85 percent of the increase, but if the county initiates it, the city can keep only 40 percent.
Brewster Mayor Lee Webster said his city is seeking the tax increase as a result of public requests to keep police services intact. Last year, when the council voted not to rehire a sixth officer, residents came out in force asking them to reconsider.
“We want to keep the same number of officers we have now,” he said. The new tax would help the city to do that.
Webster said the measure helps shift a small amount of the tax burden from property owners who live in the city, to those who shop there and also use its services.
“It is, at least in my mind, more fair” to ask outlying residents and workers who shop in the city to help pay for policing it, he said.