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Push underway to reinstate county's law and justice tax

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Empty chairs representing the nearly 99 officers that would have to be eliminated if the three-tenths law and justice tax isn't renewed provides a sobering picture at yesterday's press conference in Yakima.

YAKIMA - City police chiefs, Yakima County commissioners, prosecutors and personnel from the Yakima County Sheriff's Office were all on hand yesterday in Yakima to kick off a campaign designed to encourage people to keep the county's three-tenths law and justice tax.

Without the tax law enforcement officials are painting a bleak picture. According to Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney James Hagarty, the law and justice tax is an essential source of funding for the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. The money brought in since 2005 has been able to fully or partially fund 14 deputy prosecuting attorneys, a paralegal, two-plus senior program representatives, an office specialist and an office technician position.

According to Hagarty, in 2008 half of the 18 homicides in Yakima County were believed to be gang related and 2008 had the second highest homicide rate in two decades.

Though the county only represents 4 percent of the state population, of the estimated 10,000 gang members in Washington 15 percent of them reside in Yakima County.

The law and justice tax also funds 28 of the 56 beds at the juvenile facility in Yakima. A representative from the facility said if the three-tenths tax is eliminated, only 28 beds would be available for the juveniles in Yakima County.

All totaled the sales tax money funds almost 99 police officers in Yakima County. On top of that, 24 vehicles have been funded with the money.

The Sunnyside Police Department has four officers that are funded by the sales tax.

"That's an entire shift," Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder said.

The money also partially funds a public defender in Sunnyside, something that Radder said helps keep the court cases moving along. Sunnyside currently receives $280,000 each year from the three-tenths of one percent sales tax.

The Grandview Police Department receives $170,000 from the tax. Grandview Police Chief Dave Charvet said a total of two officers are funded with the money and a school resource officer is partially funded.

"We would lose those positions without the three-tenths tax," he said.

The city of Mabton receives $40,000 from the tax, enough to fund one officer.

"We have to have the cops on the streets to be able to scrape the crud off," Yakima Sheriff Ken Irwin said. "That way we can get them out of your hair."

Irwin said the public will see different phases of the campaign to keep the law and justice tax going. Voters will see the measure on this November's ballot, although the tax doesn't sunset until the end of 2010.

Irwin said door knockers will be handing out brochures, yard signs will be put out and a mailing campaign will commence.

"There a number of ways to become involved with this," he added.

Irwin stressed the importance of the tax, saying that public and officer safety is on the line.

"If you don't have a safe community, how does it grow and prosper?" he asked.

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