Benton County looking to raise sales tax for more police officers

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Police departments across Benton County are busier than ever. They're answering more calls and solving more crimes. But, the Kennewick Police force has 25 less officers per capita than it did in the late 90's. The city can't afford to hire more, so they're turning to you. Benton County's last pitch for a crime tax failed five years ago.

KEPR asked, "What are the chances of you getting new police officers?"
Sgt. Lattin responds, "That'll be up to the citizens to decide."

Law enforcement in the Tri-Cities intend to push a rise to the sales tax to pay for more law enforcement. A so-called crime tax would add three-tenths of a penny to the current sales tax of 0.083%.

So for example, a Walmart receipt, say, worth $300, add an extra 90 cents to that.

That three-tenths of a cent could be significant. Analysts expect it to bring in more than$4 million dollars a year. It would be spread throughout Benton County. As the largest city, Kennewick would get the lion's share more than $800-thousand dollars. The added costs seems worthy to some.

Tyler Thompson of Kennewick says, "To me, it's not a big deal. I don't think you're going to miss that money. Protective services, fire, police, that's always good use of your money."

But not everyone agrees.

One woman tells KEPR, "No, I think people are having a hard enough time affording the bare minimum. We already spend enough and pay enough taxes."

Benton County is the only county in our area *without *some sort of public safety tax. A recently-passed crime tax is paying for a new jail in Franklin County. And in Walla Walla County, it built a new police station. In Yakima County, it's helped the Sheriff's Department despite shrinking budgets.

Kennewick says this tax is necessary because the city has grown -- but the police department hasn't matched that pace.
And despite the fewer officers per capita, Benton County has seen a decrease in crime. So why is the tax necessary?

Sgt. Lattin explains, "For our investigators, they are constantly getting new cases. They have a very large case load."

Police say serious crimes keep officers behind a desk -- and not in the field. They believe it's time to catch up with our growing community.

It's not just about adding cops. If a criminal justice tax passed in Benton County, 40% of the money would go towards hiring city police. The other 60% would pay for the Benton County court system and jail improvements. The plan would put the issue before voters in the Spring.