County Council endorses proposed sales-tax hike

The lion's share of a proposed hike in San Juan County's sales tax would be used to help pay for local criminal justice and public safety services.

County voters will determine the fate of that proposed .3 percent increase in the August primary.

The County Council voted without dissent May 8 to put the proposal, which would raise the local sales tax from 7.8 percent to 8.1 percent, on the primary election ballot. If approved, a portion of the revenue raised by the increase would be used to help offset the county's cost in maintaining the existing level of law enforcement, court and public safety services.

In a recent first-quarter financial review, Administrator Pete Rose said that -- without new sources of revenue -- county revenue would fall short of the amount needed to just maintain services at the previous year’s level in each of the next six years.

Public safety service are among the many county services facing cutbacks, Rose added in a recent press release.

The proposed sales-tax hikes, at .3 percent, is expected to raise slightly more than $1 million a year. Under state law, 40 percent of the revenue generated by the new tax must be distributed to towns and cities within a county's borders. The Town of Friday Harbor, as the county's only incorporated town, would receive the full 40 percent.

In a 3-2 decision, the Town Council voted two weeks ago to support the increase. It plans to use its share of the revenue for public works projects as well as criminal justice and public safety projects.

According to county officials, more than 43 percent of the county’s operating budget is spent supporting district and superior courts, the prosecutor’s office, probation, emergency services dispatch and the Sheriff’s office. In sending the proposed sales tax increase to the voters, the council earmarked the new revenue to ensure that substantial cuts do not have to be made to those budgets.

A copy of the adopted ordinance placing the measure on the ballot is available on the County website.


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