County begins push to extend law and justice tax

YAKIMA - The three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax Yakima County assesses for criminal justice services expires after 2010.

In a bid to retain the tax approved by voters in 2004, Yakima County commissioners yesterday, Tuesday, approved putting the tax on this November's general election ballot.

County Commissioner Rand Elliott represents an area that includes the Lower Valley. He says that county-wide about 100 positions in law enforcement have been created through the tax.

Those positions would likely go away if the tax is not extended beyond 2010.

To that end, Elliott said the tax is on this year's ballot because if it was on the November 2010 ballot and failed it would give the county and cities very little time to adjust to the loss of funds.

"If it were to fail next year, it would be difficult to deal with that loss of income with two months notice," Elliott said.

Count him among those who hope it passes this year.

"The county and other law enforcement agencies have done a good job with that money," Elliott said.

The tax generates nearly $7 million in revenues each year for criminal justice funding. The Yakima County Sheriff's office receives $4.2 million annually from the fund.

In the Lower Valley, Sunnyside receives $280,000, Grandview nets $170,000 and Mabton garners $40,000 each year from the tax to apply to law and justice needs.

According to police department reports provided to Yakima County, Sunnyside has hired three police officers, pays for public defender services and leases five police vehicles through the three-tenths of 1 percent tax.

The tax has allowed Grandview to hire two police officers and pay half of the salary for a school resource officer. According to information provided to the county, the funds have helped Grandview purchase two tasers, two portable radios and one radar unit.

No information was available for the Mabton Police Department.

If voters decide to keep the sales tax on the books, the criminal justice tax would be renewed in 2011 and run through the end of 2016.

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