Public safety tax on Franklin County ballot

Growth, crime and punishment have caught up with Pasco and Franklin County, say officials who want voters to approve a 0.3 percent sales tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Proposition 1 would bring in about$3 million a year, most of which would go to pay off 30-year bonds to construct a new police station and more than double the size of the county jail. The measure needs a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote to pass.

"This is a public safety and quality of life issue," said Richard Lathim, Franklin County sheriff. He said Pasco had a bad reputation for crime 25 years ago, but the community has made great progress in "making it a much safer place now."

But the area's growth, which has averaged 5 percent a year in the last decade, has seen the jail and police facilities pushed to their limits.

"We've added schools, fire stations and police officers. Now we need to improve the criminal justice system," Lathim said.

The current jail opened in 1996 with a capacity for 102 inmates. It now houses 202, the sheriff said.

If voters support Proposition 1, Franklin County's jail would be expanded with a 200-bed addition for medium and minimum security prisoners and the existing 102-bed facility would have a $4 million upgrade to make it a high-security jail.

The city of Pasco faces a similar space crunch, said city manager Gary Crutchfield.

"There's a common need here," Crutchfield told the Herald's editorial board Monday.

Pasco's city hall on Fourth Avenue has been home to city government and the police department but the time has come to move the police into a building of their own, Crutchfield said.

The city's population has grown about 2,000 people a year in recent years, which means the police force should have two new officers each year to keep pace.

"We can't. We have no place to put them," he said. The city already has hit the wall on being able to hire women officers because "we have no place (to add to the women's locker room)," Crutchfield said.

Moving the police into a new $12 million building that would be built east of city hall on First Avenue would leave room in city hall to comfortably accommodate future space needs for other city departments, Crutchfield said.

"If we had a normal growth rate, we wouldn't need a police station," the city manager explained.

So far no one has stepped forward to oppose Proposition 1, said Rick Miller, Franklin County commissioner.

But that doesn't mean it will be easy to impose a 0.3 percent increase on what is now an 8.3 percent sales tax. If voters pass the tax, the total would be 8.6 percent in the city.

The city tried a tax-raising ballot measure in 2002, but it failed with about 40 percent approval, said Fred Bowen, county administrator.

"We need to build for the future," Lathim said. Doing nothing likely would lead to limiting the number of people who will be taken to jail,and letting some of the inmates out earlier than the courts intended, he said.

"We've made good strides (as a city and county) to change things. It would be a shame not to pass this," said Pasco Mayor Joyce Olson.

If Proposition 1 passes, the county would receive 60 percent of the increase in taxes, leaving 40 percent to the city. The measure has a 30-year limit, meaning it would expire in 2039.

"Once the people understand this is part of the infrastructure of our community, they are for it," Lathim said.

-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com