Campaign for sales tax rise kicks off

LACEY - Community leaders reached into th eir wallets Friday to help launch a campaign for a countywide sales-tax increase for crime-prevention programs geared toward at-risk youths.

"We must prevent future criminal actions by offering better options and paths, especially for young people," Dennis Mahar, director of the Area Agency on Aging, said at a breakfast for about 200 people at Saint Martin's University.

The proposal, Proposition 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot, would increase the Thurston County sales tax from 8.4 cents to 8.7 cents per $1 spent.

The increase represents three pennies for every $10 spent in the county.

Organizer Jon Halvorson said donations collected Friday and in coming weeks will go toward the $32,500 cost of mailing a campaign flier to all 65,000 households in the county. Other parts of the campaign include yard signs, a speakers bureau and the Web site www.investpennies.com.

"I know taxes aren't very popular," campaign co-chairman Dick Nichols said. "But if we do nothing and stay the course, it will cost a fortune to lock more people up."

The sales-tax increase would raise about $10 million annually, of which two-thirds would be earmarked for the crime-prevention programs. Mahar said the money only would go to organizations that can provide evidence that their programs work.

The other one-third of the $10 million would be distributed to the county and its seven cities for criminal-justice projects, such as the planned new county jail.

Sheriff Dan Kimball said the emphasis on prevention makes economic sense.

"It costs $73 a day to house an inmate at the jail and $2.50 a day to have a child in Big Brothers Big Sisters," said Kimball, who is a Big Brothers Big Sisters board member.

"If we took the $730 it costs to house one inmate for 10 days, it would take care of 300 children

for a day in Big Brothers Big Sisters."

Other speakers Friday included Gene Forrester, a retired teacher and representative of the AARP, and Rudy Borboa, a parent involved in the local Head Start program.

"As an adult in this community, we all have an obligation to all children," Borboa said.

"We're trying to build a society with members who are well-adjusted and who contribute to the community."

Keri Brenner covers Thurston County and Tumwater for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5435 or kbrenner@theolympian.com.