This story was originally posted yesterday afternoon.
Democratic King County Council Member Larry Phillips tells PubliCola he'll be calling for an audit of the sheriff's department this week.
We had called to ask him why—given the debilitating cuts on tap for the county's criminal justice system—he's come out loud against the 0.2 percent sales tax increase that King County Executive Dow Constantine, Sheriff Sue Rahr, and County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg are proposing.
Phillips reasoning? "To propose an increase in the most regressive tax during a great recession, with unemployment in local construction industry at Great Depression levels, 35 percent, making the sales tax 10 percent in some parts of Seattle ... this is getting to be ridiculous."
He also complained that his constituents (downtown Seattle, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Northwest Seattle) wouldn't be served by the sheriff's office. "If you live in Seattle you're already paying for police. To raise your taxes during a recession for a service you're not going to see? Does that make sense?"
And that's when we got to Phillips' idea for an audit. Asked how he would fund the pending $9.5 million cut (82 positions) to the sheriff's department, the $5 million cut to the prosecuting attorney's office, the $4.3 million cut to the public defender's office, and the $4.3 million cut to the Superior Court, Phillips hearkened back to his earlier call for an audit of King County Metro.
The analogy: When Metro was facing crippling cuts two years ago, Phillips called for an audit and found about $20 million in savings. Phillips, who contends the sales tax is a band aid fix for the County's structural deficit, says a better way to quickly shore up the sheriff's department (while coming up with ways to really address the problem) is to find efficiencies now.
Rahr spokesman John Urquhart, boasting that the Sheriff's office has gone down as a percentage of the budget over the last ten years, says, "We welcome an audit. Good idea, Larry. Thank you very much."
He adds: "For years we've heard grumblings from various council members—although Larry was not among them—that the Sheriff's office is hiding stuff, and we're flush ... Well, are you writing this down? We welcome an audit."
Urquhart also pointed out that of their $150 million budget, $75 million is fixed contract costs.
UPDATE: Urquhart called back. He wanted to address Phillip's point about Seattle constituents paying for Sheriff's services they "wouldn't see."
"Larry knows better," Urquhart says, pointing out that "any time one of his constituents is served a summons, gets subpoenaed, is evicted, or there's a siezure of property, that's done by the Sheriff's office." Urquhart also said the County helicopter service—"[the] SPD uses it on a regular basis, near daily!"—is provided by the Sheriff.
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