The Clark County Council is taking a second swing at a sales tax measure intended to fund a body-worn camera program for the sheriff’s department, this time attempting a measure explicitly targeting the program where the funds would go.
During its May 3 meeting, the council voted 3-0 to place a .1% public safety sales tax in front of voters on the August ballot. If approved, the tax could also be used for additional staffing of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, “and other expenses,” alongside the body camera program, stated the resolution.
The county has the option of putting up to a .3% public safety sales tax up to a vote. If approved, the .1% approved by the council would be split, with 60% going to the county and 40% going to cities in the county on a per-capita basis.
The council revisited the sales tax after a measure it proposed last year failed with only about 42% approval in November. In its most recent attempt, the council is directly stating the tax will be used for the body camera program. The failed measure was specifically for funding jail and juvenile detention facilities, with the goal of freeing up funds for the cameras.
Council chair Karen Bowerman noted the November voters guide had statements in support of the tax measure explaining that goal, though it wasn’t enough to get a majority of voters on board.
“Whatever appears in the ‘pro’ and ‘con’ statements is relatively unimportant compared to what is in this paragraph,” Bowerman said, referencing the resolution itself.
Officially approved by the county council in April 2021, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins noted the body camera program has been “a long time coming” as officials have worked to secure a funding source.
“This has been years in the making getting to where we are at today,” Atkins said.
Clark County Manager Kathleen Otto said apart from funding the body camera program, the tax could include funding staff both in the jail and for road deputies, as well as maintenance and operations expenses for the jail.
The sheriff supported using the tax to boost the office’s staffing. As of March 31, the sheriff’s office changed which calls it physically responds to, dropping lower-level offenses in response to a lack of staff.
“We need to not only increase the tools that we have to do our job correctly and safely protect our community, we need to do that with staffing as well,” Atkins said.
Kevin Hart, political action director for the Vancouver Firefighters Union, expressed a concern about placing the public safety sales tax on the August ballot. Hart noted several fire departments are running their own property tax levies that month, which could create an issue with multiple items on the ballot focused on public safety.
Councilor Julie Olson said based on the timeline, running the sales tax sooner rather than later is better. Olson said historically taxes also fare better outside of the November general election.
“Tax measures typically don’t do well in those type of elections,” she said.
Olson said the county’s outreach would need to be clear this year to avoid another failure of the measure.
“The critical thing is to pass the ballot measure so we can fund that program, and from that point forward, be as clear and transparent as possible as our public safety needs arise that we tell our community how we’re spending that money,” Olson said.
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