Richland council asked to support tax

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMay 6, 2014 

A sales tax on the ballot in Benton County this summer would help meet public safety needs in Richland and throughout the county, supporters said Tuesday.

The advocates -- a local police chief, a prosecutor and recently-retired police captain -- made their case for the sales tax to the Richland City Council, which will consider entertaining a resolution in support.

The sales tax will be on the ballot in the county Aug. 5. The Kennewick and Prosser councils already have approved resolutions related to the measure, and the West Richland council is expected to vote on one soon.

If successful, the measure will add three pennies to a $10 purchase, raising money for public safety-related programs, services and personnel.

"The cities (will) benefit greatly from this," said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg on Tuesday. He's part of Citizens for Safe Communities, a group that's formed to promote the sales tax.

He spoke with the Richland council, along with Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller and Al Wehner, who retired last week as a Richland police captain.

The sales tax would expire after 10 years.

In March, county commissioners agreed to send the proposal to the primary ballot.

With the measure, "we have the opportunity to shape the criminal justice system over the next 10 years in a very positive way," Wehner said. "The county commissioners have recognized that, and I believe the city governments will recognize that, and we hope the voters will recognize that. Because this is a very unique opportunity."

The money raised from the sales tax would be divided among Benton County and its cities, with the county getting 60 percent and Kennewick, Richland, West Richland and Prosser splitting the rest based on population.

Richland, which has seen its population swell in the last decade, would use its share to add six more police positions and three support positions.

It also would benefit from countywide programs and services paid for through the sales tax, from a mental health court to criminal gang prevention efforts, Hohenberg said.

Miller noted part of the county's portion would go to a dedicated gang prosecutor.

Citizens for Safe Communities, which has a website at www.citizens4safecommunities.com, has raised more than $11,000.

Another group, Benton County Citizens for Efficient Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement, has formed to oppose the sales tax measure. As of Tuesday, no fundraising activity was posted on the state Public Disclosure Commission's website.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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