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Tri-Cities leaders at odds with how to spend massive safety fund

Tri-Cities leaders at odds with how to spend massive safety fund

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- More money, more problems--or at least that's how it seems to be playing out with the Benton County Public Safety Tax Fund.

Benton County Commissioners are sitting on a reserve fund of about $15 million that's been collected from a sales tax meant to fund public safety.

And Tri-Cities leaders can't seem to decide where that extra money should go.

A meeting with leaders Wednesday got heated, and even Benton County Commissioners said there's some bad blood with city leaders over the public safety tax fund.

So far, the money has been used to hire more officers, fund the drug and mental health courts, and reduce gang violence.

But commissioners said they've received much more money than was projected when voters okayed the 0.3 cents sales tax in 2014, and now leaders are at odds with when and how to spend the surplus.

"When you have money sitting there that the taxpayers are paying for public safety, and it’s not being used for public safety-- I don't think that's fair to the tax payers of Kennewick,” Kennewick Mayor Don Britain said.

Commissioner Jerome Delvin said the 0.3 cents sales tax is clearly too much, and would consider lowering it to 0.2 for the next vote in 2024.

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” Delvin said. “I just don't spend money to spend money. Yeah, it's embarrassing, it's wrong to have that, but I have no control over that."

Delvin said he cancelled a meeting with city mayors a week and a half ago because they couldn't agree on who should be in attendance.

“I want the Commissioners use the money as it was intended; to fund current and future public safety needs within Benton County,” Richland Mayor Bob Thompson. “The citizens of our County entrusted all entities to use the money to support and enhance public safety in our community. I want Benton County to effectively expend these funds, consider requests for these funds in a timely and fair manner, and recognize the opportunity to improve their process.”

Commissioner Delvin said they're going to have a meeting next month where departments can give proposals for the reserve. But some department leaders say this free-for-all style meeting is not good leadership.

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