Crime, Buses and the Almighty Dollar

by JACOB H. FRIES & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he two big propositions are separate and distinct -- one deals with emergency communications, the other with buses -- but in a way, they're about the exact same thing: your money, or more specifically, sales tax dollars. For some voters, that's all they need to hear -- you ain't getting no mo' money.

But for readers of The Inlander, we like to think you take a more thoughtful approach and hear different perspectives before making a final decision. If you're just such a voter, read on.

Crime Check and Emergency Communications

This one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax -- that's one cent on a $10 purchase -- would pay for communications equipment and Crime Check, the 24-hour crime reporting center that was discontinued in 2004 because of cutbacks. The same measure failed last year by fewer than 300 votes, but some officials believe people were confused by the ballot's language -- which did not cite "Crime Check" by name. A sunset clause has also been written in this version of the proposition, so that the tax would expire after 10 years.

Of the estimated $8 million raised each year, most would go for communications gear, including towers and radios, to meet new FCC requirements that take effect in 2013. Officials say about $1.3 million would pay for Crime Check.

Why you should vote yes, according to Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich: "The [communications] system is not prepared to handle a major disaster for this community. We have a situation where on a daily basis firefighters and law enforcement officers go into communities and have trouble communicating. ... It's a serious problem. ... [On Crime Check] When you call 911, you really expect something to happen, but more and more, people are hearing a busy signal or a recording stating all lines are busy. A lot of people forget that Crime Check handled the overflow from 911. ... It was the safety valve."

Why you should vote no, according to former County Commissioner John Roskelley: "Number one, we already paid that sales tax for communication facilities. ... We were asked to approve a sales tax increase in 2004 based on public safety for communication upgrades [but] jurisdictions have been using this sales tax to backfill their law enforcement budgets. ... [Reason two] we're jumping the gun. The state is dedicated to providing this communication interoperability and they will help pay for it in the future. ... [Reason three] they're not being straight with the numbers. It's not $1.3 million for Crime Check. It's actually $3.65 million. ... If it's that important, it should be paid for by the general fund."

Spokane Transit Authority

The renewal of this three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax -- three pennies on $10 -- would continue to fund STA operations. It represents more than a third of the transit agency's total funding and without it, STA officials say, they would be forced to make deep cuts to bus service. Last year, STA had a record number of bus rides, 9.4 million, about 1 million more than in the previous year.

In all, the STA currently collects a six-tenths of 1 percent sales tax. Voters approved half of that in 1981 without a sunset provision. The other half, passed in 2004 and now up for renewal, came with a sunset. However, if approved this time around, that portion of the tax would also become permanent.

Why you should vote yes, according to County Commissioner Mark Richard, also chairman of the STA board: "What I have witnessed over the last three years is just a continuation of a real transformation in that organization for the better. ... We have increased ridership 26 percent in the last four years. ... We have the most cost-effective transit system in the state. ... Without [the tax renewal], there would be no choice but for us to make significant reductions in our service to the community. ... As a fiscal conservative, I wrestled with the [sunset] issues ... but it's extremely difficult to go through these five-year cycles and having to plan for, 'What happens if this doesn't pass?' That takes away money and energy."

Why you should vote no, according to former Spokane City Councilman Joel Crosby: "Several reasons. They don't have a sunset clause. And number two, they haven't told us what they're going to do with the downtown bus building. ... They should level with the people. I think they know what they want to do, but they haven't told us. ... The reason [the STA] has made improvements in services is that they knew they were going to be held accountable in four years. If they don't have the accountability, they will regress into the organization that they were before."

Vote-by-mail ballots are being sent out this week. They must be postmarked on or before May 20 or you can drop yours off at drop boxes outside all of the county's public libraries. You can also leave your ballot at the Election Center at 1033 W. Gardner Ave in Spokane. Comments? Write [email protected].

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