Town follows suit; council backs sales-tax proposition despite split vote

By Steve Werhly/Journal reporter

The Friday Harbor Town Council on Thursday endorsed a ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would raise the local sales-tax rate from 7.8 percent to 8.1 percent.

Not everyone was onboard, however.

"I'm not convinced this is an appropriate tax increase at this time," said Councilman Noel Monin, who voted against the measure. "I'm cold to this proposition because it's sort of a shotgun proposal and the sense of urgency has not been justified."

Councilwoman Anna Maria de Freitas was equally troubled by the timing of a bump in the local sales tax rate, which, at 7.8 percent, is among the lowest in the state.

"What is presented here is not clear evidence that it's needed at this time," de Freitas said.

Following in the footsteps of the county Law and Justice Council, which earlier gave the proposed increase a hearty endorsement, council members Steve Hushebeck, Felix Menjivar and Barbara Starr banded together to give the measure the backing of the town in a 3-2 split decision.

Although the town's support was not required to put the proposition on the August primary ballot, the county-proposed ballot title must specify who will benefit from the tax increase and the purpose for which the money will be used. As a beneficiaries, the County Council sought a show of support from both local law enforcement officials and the town in placing the measure before the voters.

State law allows a county to increase its sales-tax rate by up to .3 percent, pending voter approval, but requires that 30 percent of the newly collected total be used "solely for criminal justice purposes, fire protection purposes, or both". In addition, that enabling legislation, RCW 82.14.450, demands a county to dole out 40 percent to any city or town within its borders.

At .3 percent, the increase is expected to generate roughly $1.1 million in new yearly revenue.

Councilman Felix Menjivar, a Sheriff's deputy, as well as a member of the Law and Justice Council, put a motion before the council seeking support of the tax increase, at .3 percent, "for use by the Town of Friday Harbor for criminal justice and public safety purposes, and public works projects."

Before the vote, Hushebeck said he supports the initiative because the $400,000 it would raise for Friday Harbor "will benefit the town." He said, that he would prefer, however, a .2 percent increase and a sunset clause  -- conditions mentioned, but not championed, by several other council members.

Starr said she supports the measure without a sunset clause and at the full .3 percent.

"I strongly support public safety programs and the sheriff's office clearly needs the funding," she said later of her vote.

The ballot measure will be considered by the County Council at a May 8 public hearing, which will take testimony about the proposal at that time. It must be approved by the Council and submitted to the county auditor's office by May 11 for the ballot measure to appear on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot.

— Sources: county auditor's Aug. 17 memo to County Council


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