In August of 2014, voters in Benton County approved a county wide increase of 0.3% to the sales and use tax rate for public safety. The new tax rate was implemented in January of 2015 and is dedicated towards current and future criminal justice needs within Benton County including the hiring of additional police officers, corrections officers, and prosecutors; funding for the Metro Drug Task Force and gang and crime prevention efforts. The tax will also fund court and clerk programs including a seventh Superior Court Judge and drug and mental health courts.
Because there is a two month lag from the time retail sales tax is collected on a taxable transaction by a business to the time it is received by the state and local governments, Benton County and cities within the County received their first distribution of the new criminal justice sales tax in March of 2015.
Under State statute, Benton County will receive 60% of the proceeds generated from the public safety sales tax. Cities within Benton County will then share the remaining 40%, which will be allocated based on population. Under this formula, the City of Kennewick anticipates that it will receive roughly half of the portion of public safety sales tax that will be allocated to cities based on population, or 20% of the total proceeds generated.
The City plans to use its portion of public safety sales tax towards 15 Police Officer positions, 2 new Police Support Specialist positions and 1 new Assistant City Attorney, as well new patrol vehicles and other necessary equipment required for these positions. Of the 15 Police Officer positions funded, 12 will be newly authorized. The remaining 3 positions were previously funded through a property tax increase implemented by the Kennewick City Council in 2013. This property tax funding has been now be reallocated to pay for 3 new Captain positions in the Fire Department that were required when the City opened its 5th fire station in 2016. The City is currently working to hire these new positions, which will naturally take some time as the City seeks to hire only the best, most qualified candidates. For that reason, the City will also be utilizing public safety sales tax on a one-time basis to pay for Police Department overtime during its 2015/2016 biennium as it works to fully implement these new programs.
Community safety and responsible government are two of the Kennewick City Council's highest priorities. With that in mind, the City wants to be as transparent as possible in reporting back to the community how this important public safety funding source is being used. The following reports are updated quarterly and provide an accounting of the revenue the City has received to date, and the program expenditures that revenue has been utilized for.