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Bill would help Kitsap fight crime

While there may be a relative shortage of political contests decided at the county level during next month’s primary election, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge is nonetheless busy pushing a ballot measure that would impose a sales tax increase in order to support law enforcement efforts.

Kitsap County Proposition 1 faces an up-or-down vote in the Sept. 20 primary and will not appear on November’s general election ballot.

If passed, it would take effect for five years, starting on Jan. 1.

In 2010, it would again face the voters and, as Hauge said, “It will be up to us to prove the money has been well spent.

“The county’s population is increasing,” he explained. “This means crimes will increase. We have also lost a lot of federal money to support law enforcement, and we need a way to put it back.”

The increase of .15 percent would be split 60-40 between the county and the cities. Hauge “conservatively” projects the county would take in $2.5 million the first year.

Other expected disbursements are: Bremerton, $880,000; Bainbridge Island, $464,000; Port Orchard, $176,000 and Poulsbo, $154,000.

Each local municipality has passed a resolution in support of the measure and has indicated where it would spend the new funds.

“We’re competing for federal money with the war in Iraq and other things,” Hauge said. “Many of our funding sources have dried up, and what we have will go away. Certain members of Congress were able to put the money back, but we still don’t know how much we will need to replace.

“We need to create a fund to backfill whatever we lose for drug court and WestNet,” he said. “We’d rather use that for other things, but at least we’ll have something.”

A similar measure was defeated last year in Pierce County, while citizens in Walla Walla and Yakima approved measures in those communities.

The Kitsap version also demonstrates some restraint, since the state authorized an increase of up to .3 percent. Hauge settled on .15 percent because he determined it best suited the county’s needs.

Additionally, he is aware that some voters have a visceral opposition to a tax increase of any kind.

Or in some cases, they may feel raising taxes in this case isn’t the right course. Kris Danielson of Port Orchard, who authored the opposition statement to the measure in the county voters’ pamphlet, argues that local law enforcement should re-examine its spending patterns. For example, Kitsap County spent a substantial amount in legal fees during this year in a battle with Sheriff’s deputies.

“This is unfair on so many levels,” Danielson said. “If you are poor, or elderly, or trapped on a fixed income, $20 can make a big difference. I think that before you ask for more money you should account for the money you already have.”

One of Danielson’s major objections has to do with the exemption of new automobile purchases from the tax increase — an action she believes penalizes the poor.

Danielson believes it is unfair that school supplies are taxed, while automobiles are not.

This is an acknowledged flaw, and originates from a lobbying effort on behalf of the automotive industry, which engineered the exemption on the state level at the bill’s passage.

“This is not what we wanted,” said Kitsap County Assistant Prosecutor Chris Casad.

The campaign effort is low-key, since yard signs, billboards and advertising aren’t part of the plan.

Word-of-mouth support has become the prime driver. Local law enforcement is talking up the proposal, and Kitsap County Superior Court has written a letter of support.

“We’ve seen an increase in criminal filings,” said Presiding Judge M. Karlynn Haberly. “This increases our workload, and a lot of the funding is drying up.”

If the bill fails, it will not appear on the next ballot.

“We’re still early in the process,” Haberly said. “If we are unsuccessful, we will drop back, regroup and try to understand why.”

Over the next few weeks Hauge will be spending much of his energy in support of the bill, and will appear before several community groups. Those wishing to invite him to explain and discuss the bill should contact Kari Mann at (360) 337-7049, or e-mail kmann@kitsap.wa.us.

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