Why would Yakima County Prosecutor Ron Zirkle send out a letter stating what many county and city officials already know?
That was the question Mayor Ed Prilucik and Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell were trying to figure out this past Monday night.
Councilman Paul Garcia brought up the issue of a letter Zirkle sent to the Council outlining how the money can be spent generated from the 3/10ths of 1 percent sales tax Yakima County voters approved last year. Every city in Yakima County receives a portion of the sales tax money generated to pay for criminal justice activities. Yakima County will be collecting and distributing the tax revenues for at least six years, after which the measure will go before the voters again.
The letter comes on the heels of recent actions by the Wapato City Council to use the money from the sales tax to fund the operation of the Wapato Community Center.
Zirkle cites in his letter that before the tax measure went before the voters he had polled the various cities in the county, asking if they had any other use for the revenue than criminal justice purposes. Zirkle said he didn't hear anything to the contrary at the time, but is now hearing reports that some cities plan to use the sales tax money for other purposes.
Zirkle finishes up his letter by saying he has no authority to enforce the issues within the cities, but has made his concerns known to the state auditor's office. Zirkle also commented that it is important for cities not to break the trust voters had in the county when they approved the tax measure.
"If we betray the confidence of the voters now, we should not expect their support in the future," wrote Zirkle.
Stockwell, though, took some exceptions to the actions of the county prosecutor, whom the mayor felt was trying to make a political statement with his letter.
Stockwell said he found it funny that Zirkle is trying to paint every city the same in his letter. Stockwell said the city has no plans to use the county tax revenue other than for criminal justice purposes.
Following the Council meeting, Stockwell said the letter from Zirkle is the first correspondence the city has had with the county since Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin came before Council seeking an endorsment for the sales tax increase.
"In July (2004), Council adopted a resolution supporting the tax with the exception of the six-year sunset (clause)," said Stockwell.
Stockwell said he felt voters in the county would have approved the 3/10ths of 1 percent tax increase without the six-year sunset clause. He said now Yakima County and the cities will be faced with having to sell the measure again to voters in six years. He said cities will also have to worry about funding positions that are created with the new revenue once the six-year sales tax increase expires.
Stockwell also didn't take kindly to the fact that the Yakima County commissioners never responded to the concerns of the Sunnyside City Council with the six-year sunset clause before placing the measure on the ballot.
"Our concern is not that we intend to use any of this tax for non-criminal justice purposes," said Stockwell. "Our concern is that the county has ignored our input and now feels we need to be reminded and warned about something we have never considered. It is just plain insulting to be treated in this manner."