At yesterday's monthly Sunnyview Republican Women's Club meeting, Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey detailed the effects of voters rejecting a sales tax increase in last month's primary election.
He explained a couple of issues currently in the media, primarily focusing on the impact to taxpayers since the failure of the county's proposed one-tenth of 1 cent sales tax on last month's primary election ballot.
Bouchey, a long-time Toppenish-area farmer, said he is often asked how the roads can be linked to the county's justice system since commissioners are allocating revenues from a $2.8 million levy for county roads through a levy shift to fund improvements at the county jail in downtown Yakima.
Bouchey admitted, "None of us (commissioners) are experts in law and justice."
He said the commissioners began looking at the budget allocations for the jail about 18 months ago. The commissioners sought out a review of the county's justice system to see what improvements were necessary, including how to possibly streamline services.
An independent panel was convened and it was learned the jail needed some upgrades.
Referring to the issue of the county's two jail buildings as the "ongoing jail saga," Bouchey said the county's ongoing debt for the facility at the Central Washington State fairgrounds is a major concern that must be weighed when addressing the budget for the justice system.
That debt requires a $2 million annual bond payment.
The facility is not in use. The downtown facility that is being used is generating less revenue than anticipated because outside law enforcement organizations like the U.S. Marshal's Service are not renting beds once occupied by their prisoners.
Because the improvements to the downtown Yakima jail owned by the county are essentially mandated, the commissioners chose to seek additional revenue from the taxpayers, but county residents rejected proposition 1 this past August.
That left the commissioners in the position of seeking funding from another source and the roads improvement levy, he said, provided that source.
"The Yakima downtown facility was built to house medium level offenders...now we house murderers," Bouchey said, stating the facility is not a high security prison.
"I believed educated voters could make a decision," he said, talking about proposition 1.
Because the voters didn't approve the sales tax, Bouchey explained, the commissioners had to make a decision. That decision, to use the funds originally intended for road upgrades, doesn't take into account another $1.6 million justice fund shortfall anticipated in 2013.
"We have to solve our own problems," he told the Republican women.
When asked by Sandra Linde if there was any indication as to why voters rejected the sales tax increase, Bouchey said he believes the taxpayers were sending a message that they don't want any more taxes.
"The government needs to solve its own problems," he surmised.
Bouchey said because that is the general consensus, the commissioners have no plans to run the proposition past the voting public again.
"There will be long-term impacts," Bouchey noted, stating county road projects will not be funded.
General maintenance of the county's roads will be conducted, but not as often, he added.