Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin has a plan to generate additional revenues for the county and cities to combat funding problems with law and justice. While Irwin sees his proposal to implement a 3/10th of 1 percent sales tax in Yakima County as a viable solution, the Sunnyside City Council sees things a bit differently.
Irwin came before Council in June with a presentation of his 3/10th of 1 percent sales tax to help generate money for criminal justice programs. Groceries, medical services and automobile sales are the only items exempt from the tax. If voters passed the measure, which is anticipated to be on the November election ballot, the county is expected to generate $6.7 million in the first year. The county would receive 60 percent of the money gained under the tax. Sunnyside would receive an anticipated $279,873 from the tax in the first year.
At Monday night's meeting, Council was discussing the idea of whether or not to draft a letter of support for the sales tax.
Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell recommended drafting a letter of support for the measure, but recommended one change. Stockwell wanted to see the Yakima County commissioners do away with the six-year sunset clause. The sunset clause for this measure says the county will bring the matter back before voters for approval in six years. Stockwell said the sunset clause was a part of the ballot measure that Irwin added.
Stockwell recommended doing away with the sunset clause because cities are already having enough trouble finding funding for programs. Stockwell didn't want to hire additional personnel with the money and then voters not renew the measure in six years. Stockwell said this would mean having to eliminate positions or finding additional funding in cash-strapped times to support any new programs.
Stockwell also voiced concerns over the wording in the sheriff's proposal. Stockwell said from his understanding state law does not allow the money generated from the proposed sales tax to fund existing programs.
Stockwell said the nearly $280,000 the city would receive from the tax is needed, as it represents 9 percent of Sunnyside's law and justice budget. Stockwell said he would recommend approving a letter of support with the removal of the sunset clause.
"We would figure out how to deal with the rest," said Stockwell.
Councilman Jim Restucci agreed with Stockwell, saying there is no reason for the city to hire any additional personnel without some sort of funding guarantees to keep the new positions. Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar also agreed on removing the sunset clause.
However, Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer wasn't in favor of drafting a letter of support. Farmer, who wasn't in attendance for Irwin's presentation, said he wanted to see it a bit more defined on where the money is going to be spent.
"In view of the way the county does business, I would like to see it (the ballot measure) better defined," said Farmer.
Councilman Bruce Ricks also wanted to explore ways where the city could use the money from the tax to fund existing programs. Ricks also wanted to explore the possibility of Sunnyside operating its own juvenile justice facility.
Stockwell cautioned Council that if it didn't adopt a resolution of support with the one change about the sunset clause it was unlikely the city would have much of a voice on the matter at all.
Restucci interjected and told Council that at a meeting of the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments all three Yakima County commissioners-Jesse Palacios, Jim Lewis and Ron Gamache-said they wouldn't move forward with the ballot measure if all of the cities in Yakima County weren't aboard.
With that, the Council opted to postpone discussion on the resolution of support until the July 19 meeting.
. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org