Clallam County juvenile justice tax debated

PORT ANGELES — A proposed 0.1 percent countywide sales tax that would support the county Juvenile and Family Services facility would cost most residents about $12 to $14 each year, Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said during a Port Angeles Business Association meeting Tuesday.

“That’s three mochas with no gratuity,” he said. “It is a six-pack of really good beer.

“For those of you who like cheap beer, it’s a whole damn case,” Benedict said to a room full of laughter.

The tax, which voters will consider on the Nov. 7 ballot, would generate an estimated $1.1 million per year for equipment, repairs, maintenance and operations of the facility at 1912 W. 18th St., Port Angeles.

The state pays about 40 percent of the costs. The rest is picked up in the county’s general budget.

He said that generally, 700 kids are booked into the facility each year. Of those, 185 come from out of county. He said juveniles who are sentenced are often kept in Clallam County “because of the good programs.”

Retired probation officer Danetta Rutton urged voters to approve the tax.

She said the facility houses a number of programs that help children. Among those programs is the court-appointed special advocate program, guardian ad litem and youth at risk. There is also inpatient treatment.

“It’s more than ‘juvie,’ ” she said. “We’re treating heroin addiction in the middle school.”

Kaj Ahlburg, a past president of PABA, said that although he supports the programs at the Juvenile and Family Services facility, he doesn’t support using a sales tax to fund those services.

“I do disagree with the proposition that a sales tax rate increase is needed at this time,” he said. “As inflation raises prices, the county already collects a proportionally higher tax rate.”

He said that in recent years, the county has increased its full-time-equivalent employees by 29. He didn’t feel underserved before those employees were added, he said.

Ahlburg said voting against the proposition would send the message that the county needs to look for other funds to pay for the juvenile justice services.

The proposed sales tax increase, which requires a simple majority to pass, would add 1 cent to a $10 purchase and $1 to a $1,000 purchase.

Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones said the last time the county asked voters for a tax increase of any kind was in 2003. Voters then approved a countywide 0.1 percent 9-1-1 sales and use tax.

The county is facing a $1 million structural deficit going into next year, and commissioners have asked staff to balance the budget before department requests are considered.

It’s not unusual for the county — the only county in the state to not be in debt — to be facing a deficit this early in the budget process, and about half of budgets in the past 11 years have relied on reserves from the general fund, according to officials.

PABA Vice President Matthew Rainwater asked what would happen if voters do not approve the tax.

“No, we’re not going to shut the facility down,” Benedict said.

As a county with more than 50,000 residents, Clallam County is required by state law to operate a jail and a juvenile detention center.

He said programs could be cut and that other cuts across the county likely would be felt.

Commissioner Mark Ozias said he didn’t know what the impact would be but said “it will be broad.”

“Whether this tax passes or not, we will continue to have budgetary challenges,” he said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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