LEAVENWORTH — Voters in the tourist-friendly Bavarian Village are being asked to approve a 0.1 percent sales tax, with the money set aside to pay the rising costs of sheriff’s protection.
The tax — “one cent on every $10 sale,” as Leavenworth City Administrator Joel Walinski puts it — would raise an estimated $110,00 per year if passed in the Nov. 5 general election, offsetting major increases in contracted patrol services from the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.
The cost of such coverage has gone up by 30 percent in five years. This year, the city will pay about $454,000 for three full-time deputies assigned to the town, with a contract reached in July for $460,000 in 2014 and a likely 4 percent yearly increase each of the next three years.
The city’s sales tax revenue has only grown by about $64,000, or 12.6 percent, in the same 2008-2013 period. The city expects to glean about $942,000 in sales tax this year, or about 8 percent of its operating budget.
“We needed to find a new revenue source, and this one fills that gap,” Walinski said.
As a busy tourist magnet, Leavenworth pays for more deputy service than nearby Cashmere, which will pay about $383,000 next year for the equivalent of two and a half full-time officers.
“If we were just a town of 2,000, we probably would need the level of support that’s required right now,” Walinski said.
Debate over the sheriff’s contract grew so heated in spring that Leavenworth and Cashmere considered starting their own police departments, with Leavenworth even advertising for a chief. With the contract struck, the city council voted in July to place the sales tax initiative on the ballot, but the idea dates back to earlier contract negotiations.
Under state law, 85 percent of the money raised by the new sales tax would go to the city, to be spent specifically for public safety. The remainder would go directly to Chelan County.
The city would like to see that 15 percent used to help pay for a deputy assigned directly to Cascade School District as a school resource officer, but Walinski said it’s not clear under the law whether the funds can be earmarked for that expense.
The city hasn’t heard much opposition from local merchants, who earn their living through sales but also want police on hand to protect their establishments.
“A number of these establishments were on board to say, ‘We’re willing to pay a little extra to have that security in place,’” Walinski said.
If the measure passes, Leavenworth’s total combined sales tax would rise to 8.4 percent — the same as Wenatchee and 0.2 percent higher than Chelan, Cashmere or the unincorporated county. The town last raised sales tax in 2011 to fund street improvements through its Transportation Benefit District, established by referendum with a 0.2 percent increase.