PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. — In an effort to help fund law-enforcement and general county services, Jefferson County has placed Proposition 1 on the 2010 general election ballot. They are asking for a 0.3 of 1 percent sales tax increase. That would raise the county sales tax from the current 8.4 percent to 8.7 percent: 3 cents for every $10 purchase.
The recession has placed extreme fiscal pressure on government agencies across the nation. Jefferson County certainly is not exempt from the stress and Proposition 1 is the county’s latest attempt to fix a fiscal situation spinning out of control.
Passing Proposition 1 Doesn’t Cure the Problem, But it Helps
The county is projecting that the new revenue would add an additional $380,000 to the coffers for the current fiscal year. Without approval of Proposition1, the county projects a 2011 budget shortfall of over $900 thousand. Granted, if the proposition passes, the anticipated $380 thousand would go a long way towards balancing the budget – but not nearly enough to assure that all county jobs and services would stay intact.
If the proposition passes, collection would begin on April 1 and the county would not receive any revenue until June. It would not be until the next fiscal year that the county would receive a full year of increased revenue based on approval of Proposition 1 sales tax increase.
No matter what happens at the ballot box, the county will have to make more and deeper cuts this year. While they continue to work on the budget, they also have scheduled a budget meeting Nov. 3, the day after the general election. At that time they will know if they are working with a $900 thousand deficit or a $500 thousand shortfall.
County Services on the Chopping Block
The county has a list of potential scenarios. If the measure doesn’t pass, they have earmarked possible personnel cuts to include a position in the sheriff’s department, animal control department and prosecuting attorney’s office.
They also have discussed possible cuts in services, including closing community centers.
It Gets Very Personal
The threat of cutting county law enforcement officers in this mostly rural area was enough for me to pay attention. When the suggestion of closing county community centers came up, it became very personal.
Both my husband and I are retirement age. When the stock market tumbled and the recession hit, most of the money I had saved over the last four decades in SEP and 401K accounts were decimated.
Like so many people caught in the financial strife of the last few years, we had to adjust. With a limited fixed income, we were pleased that this spring my husband was able to secure a part time job. The earnings are helping rebuild an emergency fund and make our financial position a little less stressful. Where does he work? At one of the community centers slated to be closed if Proposition 1 fails. It is very personal, indeed.
Would the Increase in Sales Tax Really Hurt?
In Washington State we do not pay a state income tax and sales tax is not levied on necessary services or products. For example, we do not pay sales tax on meat purchased at a grocery store, but we do pay sales tax for a hamburger at a restaurant. That somewhat softens the impact of a sales tax increase. But an increase in taxes still affects household budgets. We have to balance our budget, so why can’t government agencies?
Beyond the Personal Consideration
Yes, I am tired of increasing taxes to balance budgets. Yes, I feel that the county should look for better long-term ways to generate revenue. It isn’t going to be easy. There is no substantial industry in this county to help cover the tax base. It’s a retirement community, augmented with tourism-related businesses and minimum wage jobs and the county will have to work diligently to balance the budget. Proposition 1 sales tax increase is only a stop-gap. Hopefully it will pass and provide the immediate relief that is needed while better solutions are found.
Jefferson County: Website
Board of Jefferson County Commissioners (BOCC) Public Meetings
Washington State Secretary, 2010 General Elections: Website