Vote for public safety on Franklin County ballot

By the Herald editorial staff

Nobody likes new taxes.

But sometimes a tax is a necessary evil, the only solution to a long-standing problem.

Such is the case in Franklin County, where voters will decide on Proposition 1, a sales tax increase of 0.3 percent, with the revenue earmarked for public safety.

Before dismissing the measure as an unneeded burden, which would simply put extra deputies and officers on already safe streets, please hear us out.

The jail is overcrowded, the Pasco Police Department needs more room, and the lease for municipal court space is up in a few years.

Pasco has come a long way in the past 25 years in shedding its image as a crime-ridden city. But with the explosive growth Pasco has faced -- more than doubling in population in that time -- resources have been stretched to their limits.

For a lesson in that reality, look no further than the jail. It opened in 1996 with a capacity of 102 inmates. Now, 202 inmates squeeze into that same space on an average day.

The overcrowding creates a host of problems, in and out of the jail. A fix is past due.

The Franklin County Sheriff's Department is charged with securing the inmates' safety as well as that of the community.

If the crowding gets any worse, the federal government could step in and force a solution. In the worst case, the county would end up footing the bill, without the help of the additional sales tax.

With a budget that's already stretched thin, painful cuts in other needed services would be certain to follow.

Over at the Pasco Police Department, keeping up with the city's growing population has created a serious shortage of office space.

The department has added two new officers per year in recent years to keep pace with the population and is out of locker room space for female officers, limiting the city's ability to hire any more.

Some of the additional sales tax revenue would be used to build a new police department at the east end of the city hall campus. Moving the department out of city hall would free up more space in that building for other city departments to expand.

The tax increase would bring an expected $3 million per year toward paying off 30-year construction bonds used for the jail expansion and new police department facility. The money would be split, with 60 percent going to the county and 40 percent going to the cities in the county on a per capita basis.

A simple majority is all that's required to pass the sales tax increase. And while any tax sounds scary, this one isn't. Motor vehicles, a big expense for most of us, are exempt. On a $50 purchase for example, the increase would be 15 cents. That seems manageable for most folks.

We worry about the fairness of sales taxes, which can put an undue burden on those with the least disposable income.

But it seems like the best solution for Franklin County's problems. Unlike property taxes, this proposed increase would apply to anyone making a purchase on taxable goods in the county, spreading the pain to those traveling through our community.

Visitors would benefit from the extra measure of safety and should help pay for it. Think youth soccer tournaments, shows at TRAC, conventions at the Red Lion and other events that draw people from outside the county.

Public safety is crucial to a healthy community. This proposal doesn't expand government, it just keeps pace with expanding needs.

And the sales tax increase seems like a fair solution.

The Herald editorial board recommends Franklin County voters approve Proposition 1.