Snohomish County Prop 1 sales tax measure failing by slim margin, more ballots to be counted

LAKE STEVENS, Wash -- Proposition 1 in Snohomish County is so far failing but only by several hundred votes.

Prop 1 would add a sales tax in the county to pay for more county sheriff's deputies and for services for drug addicts; it’s an effort to combat the ongoing heroin epidemic in Snohomish County.

The "Criminal Justice Sales and Use Tax" asked Snohomish County taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets to confront rising crime rates.

Tuesday’s election showed a slim majority of voters saying they aren’t ready to shell out any more cash.

“I just don’t have the extra money right now,” said voter Patricia Eikenberry.

Eikenberry added that the sales tax increase unfairly targets people like her whom are on a fixed income. She said the answer to drug addiction and mental illness issues is not to add more police to the force.

“It could go to housing and stuff like that," she said.

Proposition 1 would add a 0.2 percent sales tax -- that’s 2 cents for every $10 spent -- to raise $25 million each year and pay for 35 more sheriff’s deputies.

Snohomish County does not currently levy a countywide sales tax. The Washington sales tax of 6.5% applies countywide. But some cities and local governments in Snohomish County collect additional local sales taxes, which can be as high as 3.4%, in addition to the state sales tax of 6.5%.  For example, in some unincorporated areas of Snohomish County,  the total sales tax is 7.7 cents, while other cities have total sales taxes of 9.8 cents; the city of Mill Creek has a total sales tax of 9.9 cents -- the highest of any area in Washington state.

The added revenue could also add more social workers to continue working with deputies – placing more addicts and mentally ill persons into programs.

County prosecutor Mark Roe said the heroin problem in his county is fueling rising property crime rates.

“It’s getting your car, your shed and your house broken into, and what’s fueling that is drug addiction and mental illness,” he said.

“We have a major epidemic, we have a major problem,” said voter Mary Polly. “It needs help.”

Polly said she voted in favor of Prop 1. She said she has seen firsthand how drug addiction can ruin lives.

“To think that there weren’t enough to come together to vote yes on this, it’s a major epidemic, it’s everywhere. We need to get a hold of it because it’s taking a hold of our citizens,” she said.

But for the slim majority of voters like Eikenberry, more officers aren’t the answer to mental illness and drug addiction issues.

“They need to put that tax money towards housing,” she said. “I’m one Social Security check away from losing my place."

After Wednesday's vote results release, Prop. 1 is still failing by 659 votes (36,210 voting 'no' and 35,551 voting 'yes'). More ballots are expected to be counted Thursday and in the coming days.

If Prop. 1 ultimately fails, county officials said there could be an across-the-board spending cut next year – and sheriff’s deputies’ jobs could be on the chopping block.

In other primary election results on Wednesday (top two vote-getters move face off in general election in November):