News

Sequim approves sales tax for Aug. ballot

by MATTHEW NASH
Sequim Gazette

A decision regarding a new police station rests in city residents’ hands.

 

At the Nov. 28 meeting, Sequim city councilors voted 5-1 to bring a one-tenth of 1 percent public safety sales tax to city residents on the Aug. 7, 2012, primary ballot.

 

Funds would support building a new police station, including an emergency operations disaster center and space for services such as police patrols and crime prevention.

 

If approved, the sales tax would increase to 8.7 percent barring any voter-approved county and state tax increases.

 

City Manager Steve Burkett told councilors the tax was the most effective option and least costly to citizens for a new station.

 

He said about 60 percent of sales tax proceeds come from people living outside the city limits.

 

City staff budgeted $2.4 million in sales tax collections for the 2012 budget and if the voters approved, the tax increase would generate about $240,000. Clallam County would receive about $40,000 annually for public safety services through state law.

 

Burkett said the tax wouldn’t fund the whole project but would support a 30-year bond (at 4 percent) of about $5.4 million. The estimated cost of the new police station ranges from $6 million to $9 million.

 

The proposed new city hall project is estimated at a similar amount, Burkett said, for a total project cost of $12 million to $18 million. A decision about whether the two buildings will be built together hasn’t been made.

 

“It is a negative time in terms of the community to ask people for more taxes,” Burkett said, “but frankly there couldn’t be a better time for 10-15 years to construct a police station, to borrow money and pay it back over 30 years.”

Temporary  headquarters

Sequim Police Headquarters rents three units in the Sequim Village Shopping Center for about $69,000 a year. The city has rented the facility since 1995 with the original intent of the facility being temporary.

 

Police Chief Bill Dickinson listed a number of issues with the building at the council meeting. Due to its location, prisoners can’t be escorted through a sally port, so police must park and walk them in, he said.

 

“If we want to interview them, do anything other than hold them in jail, then they are in the mix of other people,” Dickinson said. “For example, during business hours, (there are) people who come in for fingerprints.”

 

Dickinson listed several other issues with the current police station, including lack of an armory, no separate evidence room for drugs, concerns over lack of ventilation for the laboratory, no showers and a facility that isn’t highly visible to the public.

 

The station cannot meet state or national accreditation standards, Dickinson said, and the holding cells do not meet state requirements for sight and sound separation.

 

In the recent customer satisfaction survey, 79 percent of city residents said they were satisfied with police services. Building a new police station and city hall were not among the top projects, but a new station was slightly higher in support.

 

Dickinson said he feels it’s better to buy than rent.

 

“It’s been temporary for 16 years,” he said.

 

City and county
Dickinson said city staff considered their proposed sales tax increase since earlier this year when the Clallam County Law and Justice Committee discussed a 0.1 percent juvenile facilities sales tax increase.  

Burkett said the county is considering a 0.3 percent public safety sales tax increase. In that scenario, the county would keep 60 percent of revenues and distribute 40 percent to cities based on population.

 

With the county’s tax plan, Sequim would receive about $88,000 rather than $240,000.

 

The increases could run in the city and county, Burkett said, but the county couldn’t collect one-tenth of its three-tenths of 1 percent in the city limits.

 

He said the city’s proposed increase is comparatively minimal because city staff estimates residents outside of the city and visitors pay for about 60 percent of the city’s sales taxes.  Jim Jones, county administrator, says a decision on either county tax increase hasn’t been made.

Opposing viewpoints

Early opposition came from councilor Erik Erichsen who voted against the proposition.

 

“This is fear mongering of people who want tax,” Erichsen said.

 

“I cannot and will not agree to anything that will allow us to raise the taxes,” he said. “They are already taxed enough. Even though it’s said all we’re doing is making (the tax) possible to do (to implement), we’re still doing it. And we shouldn’t be doing it.”

 

Mayor Ken Hays dis-agreed, saying that all councilors were doing is deciding to give voters the option.

 

Mike McAleer, a managing broker with Sequim RE/MAX, said the city should not add to vacant commercial space by leaving the current police station. He also said he doesn’t understand the difference between the current rent of $69,000 and the 30-year interest of $240,000.

 

“How does that compute?” he asked.

 

McAleer said the Sequim sales tax proposal harms Clallam County and that the Sheriff’s Office has had to lay off deputies. He doesn’t feel a three-tenths of 1 percent county increase and the proposed city increase could both pass.

 

Councilor Susan Lorenzen said the proposal is consistent with the citizens’ results of the survey.

 

“It won’t all come from citizens of Sequim,” she said. “Citizens are getting a lot more if we go through this route.”

 

Burkett said councilors have until May 2012 to make a final decision to keep the proposal on the ballot, to take it off or to reduce the amount to less than a one-tenth of 1 percent increase.

 

Contact the City of Sequim, 152 W. Cedar St., at 683-4139.

 

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

 

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