Elections, Government, Washington County

On the ballot: Washington County public safety levy

The May 19 voters’ pamphlet. Photo: Chas Hundley

Washington County placed a public safety services local option levy on the May 19 ballot that calls for taxing property owners 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed value

Measure 34-296 would replace the existing five-year levy, which expires in June 2021, and run from July 2021 to June 2026.

If passed, the levy constitutes an increase of 5 cents from the original levy, which passed in 2000. In other words, in 2021 homeowners with an assessed value (not market value) of $300,000 would pay $141 annually, or a little less than $12 per month. 

The levy would maintain county public safety services, such as the investigation, collection of forensic evidence, and prosecution of homicides and other major crimes, train deputies and mental health care professionals to help people in crisis get medical assistance rather than sending them to jail, support juvenile programs aimed at reducing crime, allow for the continued monitoring of registered sex offenders, and provide assistance and shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. 

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It also would add enhanced prosecution and supervision for people convicted of domestic violence, child abuse, and child pornography cases, more deputies to operate jails at full capacity, which in turn minimizes the early release of offenders, enhanced diversion programs aimed at reducing juvenile crime, services that speed up the transition from shelter to stable housing for domestic violence victims, and provide rent assistance for domestic violence survivors and help to find them jobs and permanent, safe housing.

The Washington County Voters Pamphlet says in 2019, 40 percent of the public safety services team’s 5,118 calls “resulted in nontraditional law enforcement solutions, such as helping individuals to get immediate medical care or follow-up responses to ensure a safe outcome to (their) crisis.”

If the measure does not pass, Washington County officials say public safety would remain a priority but reductions affecting prosecution, supervision, law enforcement, corrections, and emergency shelters would have to begin in 2021.

The voter’s pamphlet, which also provides arguments for and against each measure on the ballot, includes 10 arguments in favor of passing the levy, and no arguments against it.

All 13 Washington County Circuit Court judges favor the levy. Their argument as it appears in the voter’s pamphlet says, “We support this levy because our criminal justice system is much more than just a judge and courtroom. Having all parts of the public safety system sufficiently funded keeps (Washington County communities) safe.”

Likewise, the nine police chiefs across the county, the Washington County Police Officers Association, the Washington County Board of Commissioners, the Westside Economic Alliance, and the Domestic Violence Resource Center all concur with the judges. 

More information about Measure 34-296 is available on the county’s website

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