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Public outcry over Somers’ property tax proposal

EVERETT — County Executive Dave Somers’ proposal to raise property taxes 4 percent to fully fund the sheriff’s office was not well received at public hearings last week. 
The objections may have the County Council trim down the executive’s proposed budget when the council releases its version this week.
Somers proposes a 4 percent property tax increase, which could bring in as much as $3.5 million; for the average homeowner, it would mean an extra $11 to 12 more a year on their individual property taxes.
The county can charge a levy amount at 104 percent of the county’s 2017 levy base; plus any additional amounts allowed under new construction provisions of RCW 84. One percent is allowed, plus three percent of banked capacity for levy increases that the county had not taken up in prior years.
At two County Council public hearings in Everett on the budget last week, several if not all public speakers who gave testimony regarding the proposed property tax increase spoke against it.
“I know how money goes, I’ve learned that for 70 years
and it doesn’t spread as far as you’d like to think,” said Snohomish resident Ty Costa during the 10:30 a.m. public hearing. Costa, who told the County Council he was there on behalf of rural and fixed-income county residents, admonished the council that raised taxes would be “detrimental” to those on fixed incomes, such as retirees.
“What happened to all this money that we get from (new home construction and permit fees) and the increase in property taxes we had last year and the year before? Where did that go? Or are we just going to keep on increasing?” Costa asked the council.
“You want money for traffic, you want money for — you want money. But those of us that live in the rural, in the unincorporated area, see very little of the money back. This county needs to watch spending,” said Maltby-Woodinville resident James Hansen. “I came out of King County because I didn’t want to pay huge taxes, I came to Snohomish County because the taxes seemed reasonable. We’re not there anymore.”
Mukilteo resident Tim Eyman gave the County Council an earful regarding all the other taxes that residents are paying for other initiatives, using adjectives describing the average taxpayer as being “ravaged” and “overwhelmed.”
“Snohomish County taxpayers are totally taxed out,” Eyman said, adding, “This is crazy. Think about how the average taxpayer feels.”
Somers had stated that the extra revenue from the property tax increase could help fund hiring new deputies for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. 
“Public safety has always been my No. 1 priority. With over 75 percent of our general fund budget going toward law and justice agencies, our top priority is clear. My colleagues on the County Council have proven time and again that it’s their highest priority, too,” Somers stated in the 2018 budget recommendation. “That’s why my recommended budget: restores full funding to the Sheriff’s Office for 2017 and 2018; eliminates cuts for most other public safety agencies in 2018; adds five new deputies to the Sheriff’s
Office; funds necessary technology upgrades to improve the safety and timeliness of Sheriff’s Office operations; and otherwise continues our history of ensuring the hard-working sheriff, his deputies, and civilian staff have the resources they need to face our challenges. And those challenges are many.”
The SCSO has reported that it is short on staff and needs to hire new deputies to help combat the opioid epidemic.
A 2016 report on the sheriff’s office recommends the agency needed to hire 48 patrol deputies to cover the growing population in the county.
Last year, the county asked voters for a sales tax to fund police and public safety services. It would have raised about $25 million countywide, with 60 percent dedicated for the sheriff’s office. The measure failed in the August 2016 ballot by a slim margin, and the initiative was not approved.
Somers feels supporting the Sheriff’s Office and regional agencies to fight the opioid epidemic is by way of engaging youth, link people to organizations and services, and to coordinate the new ideas sheriff’s office has for combatting the cycle. 
The County Council is expected to prepare its 2018 budget next week. Somers’ proposed budget will need approval from the County Council to go forward. The council’s final budget approval could occur as soon as Nov. 13.


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