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County proposes sales tax increase to fight heroin epidemic

 

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The Snohomish County Council has sent a sales tax increase to the voters which would help fund the fight against heroin addiction.

A 0.2 percent sales tax increase that would fund public safety measures will be on the ballot this August for Snohomish County voters.

The Snohomish County Council voted 4-1 to add the measure to the Aug. 2 primary election ballot.

County officials say they want to spend the money to fight the heroin epidemic that has hit most of the county and the nation.

The sales tax increase would apply across the county and is expected to raise $25 million annually. The majority of the revenue would be going to the county, but 40 percent would be divided among area cities based on their populations.

County Sheriff Ty Trenary said that, if passed, the county plans to add 35 deputies immediately to their roster.

"The biggest and most important way this will help is it will put more cops out onto the street," he said.

Trenary pointed to an outside study done that the sheriff's office had done in 2014 to see what could be done to increase response time and better use the resources available to them.

"He detailed a series of things to improve and he said about 48 new deputies would have to added to the department to handle those improvements," he said.

Trenary hopes those deputies can be assigned duties that impact bigger picture solutions as well though.

"We want to expand our work to look at more long-term solutions to homelessness and addiction," he said.

The county has begun to run a couple of teams that embed social workers with police deputies, that could be expanded if the measure passes.

"They go out every day to homeless camps and foreclosed homes where homeless people might be and they talk with them and try to get them in programs if that is something they want," said Trenary.

That program has been successful in providing support to homeless people or those dealing with addiction.

"Daily we get people who come to us and say 'yes, I'm willing to get help now,'" he said.

Those teams help homeless people in basic ways that are often forgotten about as well, he said.

For example, Trenary said, if a homeless person no longer has identification that means they don't have access to social services, so these teams will often help them go through the bureaucracy necessary to get a new ID.

The end goal is to help give homeless people a chance to get back on their feet in some sort of recovery program, he said.

"The idea is they're not part of a revolving-door jail system anymore,"' he said.

In addition to being expanded, those teams could look at other areas of the county, said Trenary, as currently they are focused in the south Snohomish County area.

The other advantage of an improved work force would be an improved response time, said Trenary.

"We're not getting out to the calls as quickly as we should be," he said, especially in areas away from south Snohomish County.

In addition, lower priority calls may not get a response if too many high-priority calls come in.

Those lower priority calls, while not emergencies, are still important for the community. "And we want to work in communities more with some of those quality-of-life issues, and not just handle emergencies," he said.

 

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