King County Council votes 5-4 to put sales tax increase on November Ballot

Adopted legislation adds juvenile unit and repeals sales tax measure sent to ballot July 19. Vote on party lines: 5 Democrats voted yes, 4 Republicans voted no.

The Metropolitan King County Council today approved sending to the voters in November a proposal to fund criminal justice services by raising the sales and use tax in King County by two-tenths of one percent. If adopted, the revenue raised by the measure would go entirely to public safety services and include funds for the replacement of the County’s aging Youth Services Center.

In voting to place this measure before voters, the Council acted to repeal the sales tax measure adopted at its July 19 meeting. By including financing for the Youth Center as part of sales tax measure, the Council will no longer need to consider a separate funding source for construction of the facility.

“We have a duty to serve the justice needs of children and families in King County,” said Council Chair Bob Ferguson. “When we ask the voters to fund critical criminal justice and public safety services, it makes sense to include this core piece of our justice system in the proposal.”

“This modified proposal is a win-win. It is a better deal for the taxpayers and a better deal for our youth and families by ensuring their health and safety with the replacement of the overcrowded, outdated, and dilapidated Youth Services Center,” said Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer.

“The proposal we adopted today improves upon the ballot measure passed last week, because it not only ensures we can maintain our award-winning criminal justice system, it also provides a permanent fix for our crumbling juvenile court facility,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson, Chair of the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.

“By putting this sales tax proposal on the ballot, the voters of King County will have the opportunity to decide the fate of two critical public safety issues—preserving critical, mandated regional criminal justice services and replacing the dilapidated Youth Services Center,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “Of the various tax proposals we considered, this option offers voters the greatest accountability and the lowest tax burden possible to achieve these basic public safety objectives.”

“Without this ballot measure, we are in danger of losing our important alternatives to incarceration,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett. “It is important to let the voters decide.”

The County’s Youth Services Center, located on 12th and Alder, provides juvenile justice services in King County, including the hearing of juvenile, runaway, and child abuse and neglect cases, juvenile detention and rehabilitation, and family support for those navigating the legal system. Sections of the facility are roughly 40 years old and have significant maintenance needs, including over $20 million of repairs to basic plumbing, heating, and electrical systems.

In a letter to Council Chair Ferguson, the County’s elected public safety officials urged the Council to address the condition of the facility by dedicating funds toward the replacement of the Youth Center. This proposal will “resolve the urgent need to replace the decrepit juvenile court facility located at 12th and Alder, while still providing operating revenues for the criminal justice system,” wrote Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, Sheriff Sue Rahr, District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde, and Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer.

If approved by voters, the increase would generate approximately $35 million in revenue for King County in 2011 and $48 million in 2012, the first full year the tax would be collected. Under the proposal, 100 percent of the County’s portion of the proceeds would be used to maintain criminal justice services, including Sheriff deputies, the courts, the Prosecutor’s Office and Public Defense. Funds would also be directed towards funding the construction of the Youth Services Center.

The County currently faces a projected deficit of $60 million in its $620 million general fund for 2011. Over 75 percent of general fund dollars pay for criminal justice and public safety services.

By state law, forty percent of the tax proceeds would go to the 39 cities within King County based on their population. State law requires that cities must spend one-third of the proceeds on criminal justice services.

One-tenth of one percent of the proposed sales tax increase would sunset after three years. The second one-tenth of one percent would sunset in 20 years to allow the County to sell long-term debt to finance the construction of the Youth Center.

Along with an increase in the sales tax, the measure would use a portion of the County’s unincorporated area levy—$9.5 million in 2011—to fund police services in the County’s unincorporated communities.

If signed by the County Executive, this measure would be placed on the November 2, 2010 general election ballot.

Read more about this legislation on the King County Council’s LEGISEARCH system at http://mkcclegisearch.kingcounty.gov and type in “2010-0365”