November's election includes vote on .02% sales tax
September 22, 2022
Sometimes voters can get overwhelmed with choices on the November 8 ballot. The .02% sales tax proposal is one that some might not take time to realize its importance for all residents. The sales tax increase is county wide on goods and services, including internet sales delivered to a Wahkiakum County address. It does not apply to food or other tax-exempt items. The Wahkiakum County Emergency Radio System (WCERS) will generate funding only for upgrade, repair and maintenance of our county-wide emergency radio system. This system is a critical factor in providing county residents and visitors to the county with timely emergency service. The current system is old and outdated. However, federal funding will be sought to replace it with new equipment. This very small increase in our sales tax will be targeted at maintaining the old system, but ideally it would maintain a better new system if the federal funding is successful.
The Wahkiakum County Emergency Radio System is an essential tool used by all emergency service agencies in the county, including the Sheriff’s Office, all five county fire districts, emergency medical services (including ambulances), county Public Works Department, the county’s Public Utilities District (PUD), Wahkiakum School District, Town of Cathlamet, and Washington State Patrol. The proposed sales tax increase will fund the ongoing operational costs of the system plus maintenance. The county is seeking federal funding to upgrade the current radio system’s hardware and equipment, so the sales tax increase is only to meet the annual costs of continued operations.
The new sales tax increase will not affect property taxes and is not a levy. People who travel through our county and purchase food or other goods will contribute when paying the slightly higher sales tax. Everyone who relies on our first responders in the county, including visitors, will benefit from better communications. Currently, there are large portions of the county that have weak or no radio coverage and those gaps can affect the ability of responders to handle any and all emergencies. The full scope of the system would include new equipment through federal funding, then operating and maintenance funds would come from the small sales tax increase.
No one likes the idea of increased taxes, so there may be some who will be against the proposal simply because it is a tax increase. Communication systems must be maintained and paid for whether there is a dedicated funding stream or not, so if the proposed sales tax increase does not pass, the funds will have to come from other sources.
Some folks have expressed concerns that the funds would be diverted to the general fund, but the statute that controls this tax prohibits diversion of the funds which will end up in a special account. The prosecuting attorney must sign off on any expenditures of these funds, to assure that they are only being used for purposes directly related to the emergency communications system.
Our rural area has emergencies of all sorts as reported in this newspaper in the Sheriff’s Report. Visitors get lost, fall off a boat or boats capsize in the Columbia River. Sometimes hikers and/or hunters get lost on trails, or fall and break a leg. Elderly folks fall and need an ambulance ride to the hospital. People being transported in an ambulance need the volunteers on board to be able to contact the area’s hospitals. On SR 4, radio reception is so poor that access using the current radio system is sparce and at times, not adequate for information to be sent to dispatchers at emergency rooms or, for instance, firefighters. To be transported in an emergency vehicle with personnel who can’t contact the hospital, state police, other fire department personnel, or rescue teams limits their effectiveness and reduces the chances of immediate response. It comes down to the simple act of warning that incoming patients are en route to the emergency room, or for help arriving in a fire situation. Communications is at the heart of every emergency. Every voter needs to look at all proposals on the ballot with awareness of what is being requested and the result. Take the time to think about that ballot and what your vote may mean. This one is all about safety. This sales tax proposal is important to every person in our county, resident or not.