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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tax to fund Crime Check back on the ballot

Less than a year after voters narrowly rejected a tax for emergency communications equipment, Spokane County commissioners hope they will change their minds.

Commissioners decided last week to place the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax on the May 20 ballot. Money raised would pay for communications equipment and Crime Check, the 24-hour countywide crime reporting center that was discontinued at the end of 2004 because of budget cuts.

The tax would equal 1 cent on a $10 purchase.

A second attempt has been considered by officials since the tax failed in November by fewer than 300 votes.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he’s hopeful that clearer ballot language and an effort to gather support from city leaders and fire districts will help the measure pass.

“This basically comes down to public safety – your safety as a citizen and the safety of firefighters and law enforcement officers,” Knezovich said.

Most of the $8 million raised annually would pay for towers, radios and other communications equipment to meet new Federal Communications Commission requirements that will be enforced starting in 2013.

Knezovich said the updates would substantially improve the flow of information among policing and firefighting agencies.

About $1.3 million of the tax each year would pay for a return to 24-hour crime reporting.

Some officials speculated that the ballot language in November, which did not mention Crime Check by name, may have led to its defeat. The phrase “Crime Check” will be on the ballot for May.

Another change is that the tax will sunset after 10 years. The November proposal would have increased taxes permanently.

But the 10-year sunset hasn’t changed the minds of two former county commissioners who opposed the proposal in November.

John Roskelley said there’s plenty of money in city and county budgets to reinstitute Crime Check and buy new communications equipment without a new tax.

“There are different ways to pay for this without going to the trough again,” Roskelley said.

Kate McCaslin agreed, pointing to recent surpluses city and county governments earned the past few years from sales tax windfalls.

Roskelley says leaders should use the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2004 to buy new communications equipment. Knezovich says that money is paying for other important personnel and programs throughout law enforcement. He added that a citizens oversight committee will be appointed to ensure the new tax is spent appropriately.

Spokane City Councilman Al French said he would have preferred that the Crime Check matter be considered at a different election so it wouldn’t compete with the reauthorization of Spokane Transit Authority’s three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax. That tax will be considered in most urban areas of Spokane County.

French, who supports the Crime Check tax, said the bus system has improved substantially since it last went before voters and therefore shouldn’t be hurt by Crime Check being on the same ballot.

“I’m optimistic that voters will recognize the improvements we’ve made to the agency,” said French.