Kirkland Council discusses tax increase for public safety

City considers sales tax measure and potential levy to fund police, fire services.

The Kirkland City Council examined a potential public safety ballot measure at its June 5 meeting, deciding to reach out to the community with a phased approach to address funding gaps in police and fire services.

The first phase would be a voter-approved sales tax measure this year to improve police and community safety initiatives, followed by a larger levy or bond measure in 2020 dedicated to fire station modernization and staffing. The council will make a final decision about possible ballot measures on Aug. 6.

As highlighted at the council’s May 24 retreat, public safety is the top priority for them and the community. The 2018 Community Survey results show fire/emergency medical services and police services as the two most important services that Kirkland provides.

The recently completed Police Strategic Plan and Fire Strategic Plan identify the need for additional investments in staffing to provide for more proactive community policing and better response times for fire and emergency medical services, according to the council’s agenda bill. The Fire Strategic Plan also identifies significant needs for renovation and expansion of existing fire stations and the construction of a new relocated Fire Station 27 east of Interstate 405.

Cities can submit a city sales and use tax that cannot exceed 0.1 percent to voters. One-third of funds received must be used solely for criminal justice or fire protection purposes, or both. A majority of 50 percent plus one is required to pass the measure, which is then ongoing. The net new revenue generated by this sales tax would be about $1.7 million annually in Kirkland, according to the city.

Last week, the council discussed the plan to pursue this Community Safety Initiative using the 0.1 percent sales tax authority to be responsive to both sides of the gun safety issue, as well as to implement the Police Strategic Plan and improve overall community safety.

Some council members were concerned that sales taxes are regressive, but said they would support the measure as it responds to an ask from the community.

“[A]fter the initial start-up, if the economy continues to do well, there will likely be additional sales tax revenue to program,” according to the agenda bill. “Some potential options for this additional revenue could include dedicated funding for the Women and Family Shelter Operations, contributions toward School Resource Officers in Kirkland’s middle schools, mental health initiatives to support both police and fire, or additional human services/housing funding.”

A more comprehensive fire ballot measure would come in two years.

Key investments would include construction of a new Fire Station 27 located near EvergreenHealth on the east side of I-405; seismic renovation, modernization and expansion of Fire Station 26, Fire Station 22, and Fire Station 21; additional firefighters to fully staff new Fire Station 24 in Juanita when completed in 2020; consideration of adding a new dedicated Aid Car to Station 22 and other options identified by the public and council; and consideration of training center investments at station locations, especially new Station 24.

Cost estimates for the identified fire station projects are estimated at around $42 million in capital costs.

The city wants residents to weigh in on ways to keep Kirkland safe, welcoming and inclusive, starting with a Town Hall on the topic of gun and community safety from 5:30-8 p.m. on June 20 at the Lake Washington High School Theater. It’s the first of several community engagement actions from council Resolution R-5312, which was adopted on May 1.

See www.kirklandwa.gov for more.

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