Sunday, October 27, 2013/lk
BREWSTER Law enforcement in Brewster, Tonasket and Omak each have different uses in mind for the new funds that could come from a sales tax levy if voters approve it next week.
The three cities are each requesting a sales tax increase of one-tenth of 1 percent, which would go into effect April 1, 2014. The money collected can only be used for criminal justice in Brewster, and for criminal justice and/or the fire department in Omak and Tonasket.
“Everybody looks at this thing and are expecting a crazy inflation in price,” Brewster Police Chief Ron Oules said, but a penny per $10 spent “seems pretty inconsequential for everyday tax money.”
The city has roughly estimated revenues will be nearly $30,000.
“The big push for this was to cover our jail fees,” he said. The city is working to pay off past fees owed to Okanogan County after it was discovered former finance director Pamela Olsenwasn’t paying the bill.
Olsen, 68, pleaded guilty in April in Okanogan County Superior Court to 20 counts of theft varying from first-degree to third-degree.
In the plea agreement, Olsen admitted to embezzling city funds between July 6, 2004, and April 2011.
She was sentenced to 90 days of electronic home monitoring and six months of community custody, and was required to pay $41,560.50 in restitution and legal fees.
Brewster owed about $200,000 when current Clerk/Treasurer Misty Ruiz came on board in April 2011. The city negotiated a repayment plan and at the start of 2013 had knocked its debt down to about $84,000.
By the time the debt is paid off, Oules said his tentative wish list “will have changed drastically.”
“Once we get that caught up, we still have our annual jail fees. I can’t set what I’m going to use the money for until I actually know how much there is,” he said. “I’m not going to spend money before I have it.”
If Omak’s voters approve the increase, it could bring in an estimated $75,000 the first year and about $125,000 each following year.
Omak Police Chief Larry Schreckengast said the city eventually plans to look “very closely” at replacing two officer positions, but that isn’t in the plan just yet.
“The approval of the (one-tenth) of 1 percent sales tax increase would not provide enough funding to replace the officers that were lost to budget cuts last year, but would initially help in the replacement of outdated and worn out equipment,” he said.
In a guest column published in the Oct. 23 edition of The Chronicle, Mayor Cindy Gagne said the 2013 budget includes requests to replace three police vehicles, the Omak Fire Department’s command vehicle “and other essential emergency-response tools.”
Tonasket plans to use the estimated $20,000 in revenues for jail fees and dispatch fees.
“Since becoming chief of police for Tonasket, I have taken a stand on my officers becoming more proactive in preventing crime, solving crimes and fighting crime. In the process of becoming more aggressive toward crime, it has resulted in more arrests, which also creates more money being paid toward jail and booking fees,” Tonasket Police Chief Robert Burks said.
The city of Tonasket contracts with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office for dispatch services.
“They have brought us a long way in communication related to officers receiving calls, providing us with information which helps to investigate complaints, and gotten us into an incredible records management system called Spillman in which most of the agencies in the county are on the same system,” Burks said.
This will be Tonasket’s second attempt to pass a sales tax levy for law enforcement. Last year’s ballot measure failed by two votes.
Oules said a sales tax levy is more equal than other methods of taxation, such as an increase that would affect only property owners.
“All users of our infrastructure who visit our area would be help paying for it, not just locals,” he said. “I can’t say taxes are fair, but if we’re going to have a tax this is about as fair of a tax as we can have.”
Okanogan County is the one of two counties in the state that doesn’t implement a law enforcement funding tax, he said.
Voters in Twisp, Winthrop and Okanogan have approved sales tax increases in the last two years.