Juvenile justice tax gets heavy support in first count of ballots

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County voters seemed to be handily approving a 0.1 percent countywide sales tax that would support county Juvenile and Family Services.

The first count of ballots in Tuesday’s general election showed Clallam County Proposition No. 1 passing by 8,288 votes, or 59.69 percent, with 5,596, or 40.31 percent, opposed.

“This shows that a large majority of our community is supportive of our efforts and what we’re trying to do out here,” said Pete Peterson, Juvenile and Family Services director.

Officials have said Clallam Juvenile and Family Services offers the best services in the state and it is the only facility in the state to offer drug, mental health and family counseling to kids.

The tax, which would boost the overall sales tax in Clallam County to 8.5 percent, is expected to generate up to $1.1 million annually for the program.

The tax would create a dedicated fund for the facility, which now draws most of its funding from the county’s general fund. It wouldn’t cover all the expenses but would lessen the burden on the general fund.

The tax would cost the average person in Clallam County less than $15 per year, and even less when tourism is considered, proponents said.

The state pays about 40 percent of the costs of the facility. The rest is picked up in the county’s general fund budget. The agency is operating at a loss of $1.75 million to $2 million a year, County Administrator Jim Jones has said.

In 2017, the department budgeted for $1.25 million in revenue and $3.14 million in expenses for a general fund burden of $1.89 million.

The Clallam County Republican Party announced in October that it opposed the proposed sales tax and believed the state should provide funding for its underfunded mandates.

“The party obviously took the stance that we weren’t for it,” said Matthew Rainwater, party chairman.

Rainwater said he hoped the county would pursue encouraging the state to fully fund its mandates.

He said the election results showed that the majority of people in Clallam County felt the tax was worthy of their vote.

“Underfunded mandates are hurting the local economy,” he said. “How about [the state] providing additional funding or not enacting policies that create a big burden on local governments?”

Peterson said the tax will be the only “guaranteed” funding for juvenile services.

“It gives us that baseline of guaranteed funding for about a third of what we are doing,” he said. “That’s a positive.”

County Commissioner Mark Ozias said he is grateful the tax appears to be passing “with such a strong level of support” from the community.

He said he is grateful for the volunteers and other elected officials who worked to educate the community about the programs offered at the facility.

He also said passage of the tax means the county will not be forced to make significant cuts to other parts of the budget.

“The income from the tax will kick in partway through the year next year,” Ozias said. “In a nutshell, it’s going to mean we’re not going to have to reduce the size of county staff.

“We’re not going to have to reduce the level of service that is currently provided.”

The county had been working to balance the budget into next year under the assumption the measure wouldn’t pass.

The county was considering across-the-board cuts, reduced hours or eliminating positions.

Department heads had been asked to collectively look for about $1 million in cuts so the county could have at least $9 million in reserves.

Officials have said that if the tax failed, the county would still be required to fund Juvenile and Family Services, but there would likely be cuts in other areas.

County Commissioner Bill Peach said he was happy with the results and that he thought it would be closer to 50-50.

“The best part is it was the public that made the decision,” he said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.