The sales-tax increase is aimed at fighting Snohomish County’s opioid epidemic and boosting law enforcement.
A sales-tax increase aimed at fighting Snohomish County’s opioid epidemic and hiring more sheriff’s deputies was narrowly trailing Tuesday night.
The tally showed roughly 51 percent against the increase and 49 percent in favor.
“We knew it would be a big ask,” said Marcia Isenberg, the deputy county executive.
The proposed 0.2 percentage-point increase would push the total sales tax to anywhere from 7.9 percent to 10.1 percent, depending on the part of the county — one that already has some of the highest sales-tax rates in the state.
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Seattle’s sales tax rate is 9.6 percent.
Just last year, Snohomish County voters approved raising the sales-tax rate 0.3 percentage points to boost bus service.
Still, Tuesday’s count was so close that officials were far from ready to concede defeat. County Executive Dave Somers did not plan to issue a statement until Wednesday afternoon, according to spokesman Kent Patton.
“When you only have an 800- vote margin out of 63,000 votes, it could go either way,” Patton said.
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He also wondered whether late voters, whose ballots have yet to be counted, might be more supportive of funding law enforcement after last weekend’s shooting of three young people in Mukilteo.
“We’re still very optimistic,” said Snohomish County sheriff Ty Trenary. “We’ll hopefully know more within the next 48 hours.”
The newest effort to increase sales taxes occurs in a county with one of Washington’s highest death rates from opioid overdoses, claiming 420 lives between 2011 and 2014.
At least one-third of the deaths involved heroin, which has experienced a resurgence around the U.S. in recent years.
The epidemic has drawn in both poor and affluent people. Whites account for most of the fatal overdoses in Snohomish County, but Native Americans also have been hard-hit. Their share of opioid deaths was four times their percentage of the county’s population.
The extra tax money from Proposition 1 would primarily go to law enforcement. A smaller amount would fund social-service and treatment programs.
Supporters have said the measure would allow the county to move toward a comprehensive way of dealing with homelessness and addiction.
“Traditional policing isn’t going to solve this problem,” Trenary has said.
The 0.2 percent increase amounts to 20 cents on a $100 purchase. It would generate as much as $82 million over the next five years, according to projections. The county would collect 60 percent of that, with the other 40 percent divided among municipalities.
Of the new revenue, $16 million would be used to put as many as 35 new sheriff’s deputies on the streets by 2021. They would not work exclusively on the drug problem, but the extra staffing would help the sheriff’s department fight it, according to officials.
Some officers would be teamed with social workers to reach out to homeless people and chronic substance abusers, connecting them with addiction and mental-health services. The county, which has two social workers doing this work, would hire four more.
Support for the increase was widespread among county officials and there was no organized opposition. But comments to the county’s Facebook page in the weeks leading up to the election indicate that some residents were opposed to yet more taxes.
Officials said they have been trying to make headway on the drug problem, but have been constrained by budget woes.
If Proposition 1 goes down, officials said they will have no choice but to keep fighting with the resources they have. “But it is going to be very difficult,” Isenberg said.